Dr. Beaupre has asked me to comment on some of the factors and influences which motivated me or influenced the direction I took in developing Cued Speech. In fact, he listed eight questions he wanted me to address along the way.
1. Assuming that "necessity is the mother of invention," what fathered the specific direction of your invention of what is called Cued Speech?
The start of my interest in deafness was my learning, in early 1965, that most persons born deaf never become able to read well enough to enjoy reading, or even to look up a word in the dictionary and learn its meaning. I had supposed that deaf persons were bookworms, served by reading as their one clear window on the world. A few months study convinced me that the underlying cause of their reading problem was the lack of any reasonable way to learn spoken language, without which they could not use speech for communication, become good lipreaders, or learn to read (as opposed to being taught the recognition of each written word). So, I really started with the conclusion that what was needed was a convenient way to represent the spoken language accurately, through vision, in real time. That was the problem I set out to solve, the perceived need that set my direction.
2. Were you influenced by any other person?
Two persons exerted a decisive influence on what I did: one before I developed Cued Speech, the other after. My reaction to the problems of education of the deaf was strongly influenced by my mother's philosophy of education (she started teaching at 16 and retired at 76): "You must present what you want the child to learn in such a way that he will succeed about three times in four." I learned from her that a child must feel successful in order to learn most efficiently and to acquire the lifelong will to learn. In looking at the education of the deaf I was appalled by the difficulties experienced by the children, especially in the attempt to learn spoken language.
Another person who influenced me a great deal was Dr. Powrie Doctor, long-term professor at Gallaudet, who during the school year taught college students political science with signs at Gallaudet, and then during the summers taught preschool black deaf children orally at Hampton Institute. Shortly after completing the design of Cued Speech in August, 1966, I went to him to get his reaction. "Orin," he said, "you'll be shot at from both sides (oral and manual), but don't you ever give up. You've got something important here. This is the first method that solves the problem of syllabication for the deaf." He prepared me for the opposition I would encounter, and because he was so respected by professionals on both sides of the oral-manual controversy, his words gave me confidence.
3. Did you consider any alternate systems?Not really. Of course, when I started reading about deafness, before I focussed on spoken language deficiency as the cause of reading difficulty, I thought fingerspelling appeared to be the solution, but I soon learned that it is not, despite its usefulness. Once I decided to try to develop a visual representation of spoken language, I faced a decision. Recognizing that others must have attempted the same, should I search the literature to see what they had done, or should I attack the problem de novo? My decision was influenced by a principle I had learned in many years as a chess player: If, in a given situation, you must choose between two lines of attack that appear to be about equally strong, choose the one that furnishes more options down the line.
If I went to the literature to see what others had tried, I would never be able to attack the problem initially with a mind uncontaminated by prior impressions. Using a de novo approach first, I could later examine what others had done and use their ideas. So, I began by analyzing the problem through a systems approach, listing what the system needed to accomplish, what conditions of use it must satisfy, what means it could employ, etc. Because of my initial preoccupation with fingerspelling and its speed limitations, I attacked the theoretical problem of whether the hand can convey visually the equivalent of the speech message. It cannot, because the hand is too combersome to execute the equivalent of the output of the vocal mechanism at the rate of speech. This drove me to look for additional input, the information visually available on the face during speech. Here I went to the literature to learn that this amounts to about half the information required to convey the full speech message, leaving only half for the hand -- assuming, of course, that I could design an output for the hand furnishing the complementary half.
After I completed the design, I went to the literature to see if others had designed similar systems. I found several systems which utilized the hand to supplement the information available on the mouth, but none which satisfied the principles I had developed for Cued Speech -- and which, I concluded, make it superior. These are:
- All the phonemes of the spoken language are made to appear visually different from each other, either on the mouth or on the hand. Phonemes alike on the mouth are different on hand, and vice versa.
- All phonemes are read from the lips -- that is, no single phoneme can be identified from the hand alone. Thus it is really a lipreading-support system.
- The basic unit of Cued Speech is the CV (consonant-plus-vowel) syllable, just as in speech itself, so that the cues can be synchronized with normal speech in such a way as to convey various prosodic features, such as stress, duration, and even intonation.
4. Were there any decisive breakthroughs along the way?Only at one point. I had very smooth sailing in the initial stages until I faced the problem of representation at the syllable level. Though I was able to reduce the load on the hand by grouping phonemes into groups from which one could lipread clearly, I had not produced a system capable of being used any faster than phonemic fingerspelling, which (though I didn't know it) had been developed in 1890 by Edmond Lynn. It took me six weeks to solve this problem. By conceiving of the representation as a double two-dimensional matrix, I could get a periodicity equal to that of the speech syllable, represented by the combination of lips and hand. Simply stated, the idea of using hand shapes to group consonants and hand positions to group vowels (thus two dimensions for the hand), I could account for them simultaneously and achieve the CV syllable rate. Why I stalled on this problem for six weeks, I don't know. It was really very simple, once the idea struck me, but I had to get the idea through mathematical reasoning.
5. What sort of reservations did you encounter in other professionals?
The most obvious imaginable: the tendency of oralists to consider Cued Speech "manual" and of manualists (pre-TC) to consider it "oral." Then, of course, most deaf people have been initially suspicious of Cued Speech as representing an attempt to replace sign language. I've never blamed them for this, because they fought so long for the right to use signs that the tendency to oppose anything that might compete is quite understandable. I find deaf people highly revceptive if they have a chance to see what Cued Speech really is: an aid to lipreading and a support to the idea of bilingualism for the deaf through recognition of sign language as completely separate from English and other spoken languages.
6.What learning hurdles did you encounter in early teaching?
Early on, we made the mistake of encouraging hearing persons to memorize the chart of the cues, which delayed them severely in attaining proficiency. Now, of course, we teach hearing people through audition as much as possible. Otherwise, we encountered no problems other than those we still have: the difficulty many people with normal hearing have in discriminating speech sounds, their lack of awareness of how they pronounce words, lack of motivation resulting from having only a tentative commitment to learn, lack of understanding of the importance of consistent use. Fortunately, we have improved methods and materials designed to reduce the severity of these problems.
7. What do you hope the present manual will accomplish?
Dr. Beaupre's Cued Speech proficiency test and rating scale furnishes the first solid basis for evaluating proficiency, identifying and tabulating the specific errors and deficits in a person's cueing. By going on to provide specific practice materials for remedying those identified defects the manual will, I hope, greatly increase the ability of cuers to improve their proficiency and, most important, know where they stand.
8. What advice do you have for those attempting to achieve or improve proficiency through use of the manual?
First, learn Cued Speech the regular way, through a workshop or tutoring followed by extended practice with the audiocassette lessons, until you know the basic system and can cue anything slowly. Second, have your cueing evaluated with the Beaupre scale and give close attention to the weaknesses indicated. Third, give the practice materials in the manual a good try and stick to them long enough to get results. Forth, never consciously try to cue fast, but let your speed come as it naturally develops. To try to cue fast simply causes mistakes, especially in connection with liaisons and consonant clusters. Fifth, and this is very important, report to Cue Central and/or Dr. Beaupre how you get along, and provide any suggestions you have for improving or expanding the material.
R. Orin Cornett, Ph.D.