Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Curse of the SLP

~ This is not a horror story... Just a slight confessional~

Blogging has not been in my "blood" lately. I'm not sure if I have just run out of ideas and energy or... could it be the stress... Yes, definitely the stress of dealing with the introduction of the Medicaid HMO to the East Texas area. (But I will spare you the ranting of a frustrated private practice SLP).

In my last blog article, a long long long time ago, I mentioned I was going on a trip to Ireland. I did and it was a wonderful trip: cooler weather, unusually dry for the time of year (yay!), lots of wonderful sights of green countryside, castles, monasteries, ruins, pubs, interesting people... There were so many things to love about Ireland. The people are authentic, down to earth, and quite witty. The time away from work was refreshing while it lasted.

If you want to see more of my Ireland photos click here: Ireland 2012

So what's the "curse of the SLP" as stated in the title of this blog? It doesn't occur with a full moon nor does it have anything to do with blood sucking beings (those are actually called "insurance companies").  Our curse would be noticing the "way" everyone speaks, often to the point of distraction. The Irish have an accent in case you never noticed. After several days of being ever so enchanted with the cadence of the Irish brogue, I began to notice something a bit less enchanting; eventually it seemed to be a bit irritating to me. When I mentioned this phenomenon to my husband, he responded that he had not noticed it at all.

What had I noticed? Most of the Irish I spoke to did not pronounce the "th" sound! They do what so many of our young clients do. They substitute a /t/ or a /d/ sound for the voiceless and voiced "th". I first became fully aware to this when someone suggested we visit "Howt" (or did they say "Hoat"?). When I looked it up on my map it was spelled "Howth". When I asked the cab driver to take us to "Howth", he replied, "Oh, Hoat? Okay." Once I became fully cognizant of this dialectical trait, every "th", or substitution thereof, was like a sounding gong: ledder / leather, dat / that, tank you / thank you... The funniest episode of this was with a cab driver. As my husband was in the Dublin area for work, I had to sightsee on my own most of the time. So I booked several bus tours to see the countryside. We were staying outside of Dublin closer to his job. Most of the tours left from the center of Dublin. This tour required a 6:00 a.m. trip into the city to catch the tour bus. Since the train system did not run that early, I went in by taxi. It was the second week of our stay and I was getting tired. Needless to say, I was not operating at "full speed" this particular morning due to fatigue and being deprived of my life sustaining coffee fix. I chatted with the driver during the 20 minute trip into Dublin and when we arrived he stated the fare in his thick Irish brogue, slightly mumbled, which I didn't hear all that clearly..."Dat'll be tuhty Euros." So I hand him 20 Euros. He repeats "tuhty". So I hand him another 20 (40 Euros). He says it one more time with more clarity, "Tirty", and my brain finally clicked in to the /t/ for "th" substitution and I say, "Oh, Thirty!" and hand him the corrected fare.  I made a mental note to pay more attention next time. 


30 Euros

So, this is the curse. As SLPs we often find ourselves listening to "the way" others are speaking rather than being fully focused on "what" they are actually saying.

Don't get me wrong... SLPs are not lingual snobs who mock or scorn these "mispronounced" words (well, there may be a few out there who are as I recall some derisive comments about George W's speech skills at an ASHA conference years ago... but that was likely more politically motivated... but since he is a native Texan like myself, I did not fully appreciate it... but I digress). Rather than snobbery, it is a by-product of our training and our honed craft. We do not deride the differences; we simply notice them, to the point of distraction. This curse has been particularly troublesome during church services when a guest preacher has a subtle lisp and I find myself focused on his /s/ sound rather than the content of his sermon. Or when our preacher produces the "eel" sound as "ill": Someone was hilled/healed, we can fill/feel an emotion.... I invariably get irritated with myself for picturing in my mind an actual "hill" or someone "filling" something, even though I know fully well what was intended in the comment.  I am also cursed with a graphic mind; I make lots of pictures in my brain. There was also the time when a new weatherman had difficulty with his /r/ sound and I could not focus on what the forecast was because I was so focused on each and every /r/ sound that came out of his mouth, comparing them to see in what context he said a better /r/.  I immediately called my co-worker and asked if he was one of our former clients, which he was not. (Happily, he must have had some speech therapy recently because he sounds so much better and I now can actually listen to the forecast and end up knowing whether or not rain is expected tomorrow).

I recall when this was not a problem for me. Prior to going to college and getting my training, I had a much more "East Texas" accent than I do now. My phonetics and phonology teacher made it abundantly clear that people in Michigan would never allow us to teach speech to their kids if we could not distinguish between the words "pen, pan, pin" in our own speech. I recall being amazed that those words actually were supposed to sound different from one another. What a novel concept to me!  Even people from Dallas, 2 hours northwest of us, were known to make fun of our accents. Although I believe people in West Texas have thicker accents; just my humble opinion.  It is probably more a rural versus city kind of difference.

Also, I grew up with a mother who has a thick accent from Belgium. I had noticed the accent during my growing up years but I was acclimated to it. I knew she could not say her "th" sound but it never really bothered me or distracted me from the message. I recall a time when I had brought a new friend over to my home. After meeting my mom she asked me why my mother wanted to know if she had some butter at home. I paused for a moment, a bit confused, and then started laughing when I realized my mother had asked her if she had any "brothers" at home. Of course having grown up listening to her, I understood everything she said. I was often amazed at how others did not understand so much of what she said. I also realized that people often don't try very hard to understand others with speech differences. Maybe that is one of the reasons I ended up in this field. On a side note, growing up with a foreign born mom was quite fun.  She good naturedly put up with our laughing at her mispronunciations: tree trees / three trees, foe-toe-graffy / photography, moss-kit-oh / mosquito, and comments like "I am so disgusting / I am so disgusted",  I also picked up on few of her pronunciations and recall not feeling so good natured when I was laughed at by my friends when I pronounced the name of the store "Sears" as "Searis" (I think I also was known to say "foe-toe-graffy" once or twice). 

I suppose every profession has such pitfalls.  Whatever it is that we spend our time doing, will invariably carryover into other parts of  our lives. So, instead of a curse maybe it is just the natural progression of the skills that make us great SLPs. We are what we are.


Nicole Allison said...

lol! When I went to Ireland I noticed the same thing (/t/ or /d/ for /th/)! It is funny how our profession gives us a sharp ear for such things!
Nicole at

CC said...

My husband insists that "Mary" and "Merry" sound completely different and I can't hear it at all!! :) :)