HOW WE SPEAK

Did you ever happen to think about how you learned to talk? Or why you couldn’t talk until you were a year or two old? One reason is that you had to do a lot of listening during the time you were a tiny tot in order to learn the meaning of words, and in order to make the sound of words.

When you were just a few weeks old, your mother probably said “hi” to you when she came into your room. You didn’t answer because you didn’t understand the meaning of the word “hi.” But she repeated the word many, many times each clay, week in and week out, and finally you did understand her and probably said “hi” back to her. You had learned to imitate the sound she made and, at the same time, learned its meaning. And did you know that if you hadn’t been able to hear, you wouldn’t have been able to talk? Since there would have been no talk to listen to, there would have been nothing to imitate.

When a child hears the same sounds over and over again, he begins to understand what they mean. If the mother says “come here” and motions for the baby to come to her, eventually he knows the meaning of the words. If the baby happens to live in France and the mother says viensici over and over again, the little French child soon realizes that it means the same as “come here.” When a mother points to the electric light in the ceiling and sees “light,” the baby soon learns what a light is, and imitates the sound his mother has made.

The Speech becomes possible when we find out how to use the larynx in the neck, together with the tongue and lips. The larynx-some people call it the Adam’s apple-is located in the neck below the throat and above the windpipe going to the lungs. It is made of cartilage and is held together by muscles and ligaments. In the middle of the larynx are two vocal cords, which vibrate when air passes between them. ,When we tighten our vocal cords and air very hard out of the lungs, we e a high sound. When we relax our vocal cords and blow air out of our lungs, we make a low, deep sound. By using the muscles in the throat to tighten and relax the vocal cords, we learn to make all kinds of different sounds.

When we breathe in, air passes from the outside through the larynx and down through the windpipe into the bungs. During times when we are not talking, the vocal cords are relaxed and apart. When we talk or sing, we tighten the vocal cords and narrow the opening in the larynx. Air passing through the vibrating vocal cords causes them to vibrate, producing sound. It is very much the same as producing sound by blowing through a clarinet or a trumpet. When we play a clarinet we cause a thin piece of wood, called a reed, to vibrate as we blow air over it. When we blow a trumpet, our lips vibrate as we blow air into the instrument’s opening. We also make a sound when we blow air through a whistle. In fact, whenever air passes with force from a larger to a smaller passageway, sound is created. You can do that by letting air out of a balloon by allowing only a small opening at the top.

When the sound waves we create by blowing air out of the windpipe and larynx reach the mouth, we are able to turn those sounds into words. We do this by using our tongue and lips and jaws. If you want to see how important the tongue and lips and jaws are in speaking, just try to talk without moving them. You find you can make sounds, but you can’t make words. Your jaws, and even your teeth, help to make your talk clear. For instance, try to say the word “mom” with your jaw open. It can’t be done. Or try to say the word “open” with your mouth tightly shut. You’ll find you can’t do that either.

As children grow up they learn to control their larynx and their tongue and lips better. They even find that they can train these organs to perform just like a fine instrument. Some boys and girls take singing lessons, and when they do, they are really learning how to use their breathing, their larynx, and their tongue and lips so they work together smoothly. A child who sings beautifully has learned how to control his vocal cords, too, so that they vibrate just right in order to make just the musical sounds wanted.

The vocal cords are delicate and can be injured by constant yelling, shouting, or screaming. Did you ever see someone just home from an exciting football or basketball game? He may be hoarse from having shouted encouragement to his team. If he only does this once in a while, it probably will do no great damage. Still, it is better to speak softly and take good care of your voice.

When someone gets an inflammation of his larynx, he may also become hoarse. Some children and grown-ups actually can’t talk because of the inflammation, but if they stay quiet, drink a lot of water and fruit juice, and take their medicine regularly, they will see the condition clear up within a few days and their voice return to normal.

Just above the larynx is a piece of tissue called the epiglottis. Whenever we swallow food or liquid, the epiglottis closes the entrance to the larynx. This prevents food or drink from getting into the windpipe or lungs while we are eating. Once in a while a person talks and eats at the same time, and the larynx opens and the food or liquid goes down the wrong way-right into the windpipe. And, of course, he coughs and chokes. That’s why nobody, especially a child, should try to talk with his mouth full.

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