PG-1: EF-I

The term "dialect" as we will use it refers to those speech and language habits which distinguish an individual as part of a specific geographical area, ethnic group, or social class. If someone has ever told you that you speak with a "dialect" they are simply stating the obvious and the inevitable: everyone speaks with a dialect. Your dialect -- along with mine -- is not limited to the way we pronounce certain words. The way we say "How now, brown cow!" is only the tip of the iceberg. Word meanings and word usage are part of dialect. Whether you call a certain ice cream drink a "shake" or a "frappe," a "cabinet" or an "ice cream soda" is part of your dialect. Do you describe the time as a "quarter of three" or a "quarter to three"? Whichever way is dialect. Do you "put out the light," "put the light out," or "outen the light"? Pitch changes and intonation patterns are very much a part of dialect as are stress patterns.

People who poke fun at a particular regional dialect seldom mimic the speech of an educated person from that region but caricature the "back woods" speech of the poorly educated. Attempts at humor are sometimes amusing but seldom fair! The sober fact is that no single rgional dialect is "standard" in the U.S.A. Some special interest groups such as the network broadcasting industry (upper MIdwest General American preferred) and the country/western music business (southern mountain dialect preferred) have their biases, but otherwise its a free country where dialects are concerned. The educated speech of your part of the U.S.A. is just as good as (but no better than) the educated speech of any other area.

Cued Speech as a system does not favor any particular dialect or language. Whatever you are speaking to your hearing-impaired child you should be cueing as faithfully as possible. True, the speech demonstrated in the practice tapes "Beginning Lessons in Cued Speech" is primarily General American dialect. This doesn't mean that GA is preferred - only that it was the dialect of the person speaking on the tapes. Actually GA was a reasonable choice because it covers the largest single dialect population. Would it surprise you to learn that certain words on those tapes are not 100% appropriate for every speaker within the GA region? There are many variations within GA just as there are many different Southern or New England or Southwest dialects. It would be virtually impossible (or at least prohibitively expensive) to make Cued Speech instructional tapes which would match perfectly every dialect variation in the U.S. as spoken by a given individual. Why? Because pronunciations vary within the individual. Each person has his/her own "idiolect."

To illustrate the problem, let's try to make some predictions about what will happen in the speech of Mary Smith from Topsfield, Massachusetts. We know Mary and have heard her say the words "ba(r)n" and "fa(r)m" with the /r/ phoneme missing so that her pronunciation is /bahn/ and /fahm/. We also know that such pronunciations are typical of the dialect spoken in Topsfield. So if we instruct Mary to cue-and-say the words "barn," "darn," "harm," "charm," "varnish," etc. without the /r/, we will be meeting her dialect needs perfectly. Right? WRONG!! In real life Mary always says the /r/ in "varnish" and "charm." Sometimes she says /dahrn/ when mending socks, but she says /dahn/ when using the genteel cussword! Why the inconsistency? When Mary went away to school other girls made fun of her "Boston accent." Mary tried desperately to insert the /r/ sounds to conform. She was successful in words not common to her childhood ("varnish" and "charm"), but not successful with those words in her basic vocabulary. "Barn" and "farm" were more resistant to change.

Personal dialects have many complex layers of influence: parents, playmates, school teachers, summer camps, life in different communities, military service, job requirements, social snobbery -- the list is endless. It is also a fact that people "role play" when the situation demands. Adults who have "dropped" their family dialects readily assume them again when at family reunions. The writer of this manual discovered years ago that folks with "colorful" local dialects suddenly lose them when asked to make a tape recording!

In order to keep Cued Speech reasonably easy to learn, certain differences which occur within speech sounds of American English are not made visible on the hands. These variations within phonemes are called allophones. Let's examine some of the allophones:

  1. Degrees of nasal resonance or nasal emission. In some dialects people say vowels with a nasal "twang." No cue has been designated for this in American English because nasality is non-phonemic: it makes no difference in the meaning of a vowell. People born with cleft palates sometimes emit consonants through the nose which produces a nasal "snort." No hand cue is designated to visualize this nasal emission.
  2. Degrees of consonant aspiration. It is normal in American speech to say the /p/ in "pen" with a bigger puff of air than the /p/ in "stop." The /p/ in "spoon" has almost no puff of air at all. These allophonic variations of /p/ and other plosive consonants are generally not cued, although the "release" of a consonant in the side position can be designated with a "flick" of the fingers. Most of us don't bother -- especially at conversational speeds.
  3. Slightly different tongue positions for vowels. People from New England may make the /ah/ vowel flatter in the mouth; people in East Texas may lower the /e/ in "beg" so that it sounds almost -- but not quite -- like "bag"; people in North Carolina may raise the /e/ in "pen" so that it sounds almost -- but not quite -- like "pin"; people in southern Ohio may say "fish" so that it sound almost -- but not quite -- like "feesh." These allophonic variations are not designated with separate hand cues, although they may be visible through speechreading.
  4. Consonant distortions generally considered articulation defects. Cued Speech does not show than an /s/ sound is lisped (articulated against the teeth, lateralized, or lengthened0, nor that /r/ or /l/ sounds are labialized. It would be possible to invent special cues for speech/language pathologists who help deaf children to articulate more clearly, but those of us who cue to provide a faithful receptive model of speech for the hearing impaired have little use for such refinements.

It is possible to show that vowel sounds and some consonants are made longer or shorter via Cued Speech, and this is one of the most common allophonic variations among dialects.

The real dialect problem we face when cueing our own speech is not that we have a dialect; everyone speaks with a dialect. Nor is the problem centered in the fact that individual pronunciations vary within a given dialect. Nor does the lack of specific cues for allophones cause confusion to any great extent. Whenever there are cueing inconsistencies related to an individual speaker's dialect, two causes seem to predominate:

  1. The cuer doesn't really "hear" what he says -- he "hears" what he thinks he ought to say.
  2. The cuer over-extends initial cueing instructions as "rules" which don't always apply to his individual habits.
An example may help to clarify how these causes operate: A parent of a deaf child (let's call him Sam to conceal identity) first learned to cue in a region where people generally say /oh/ rather than /aw/ in words such as "door," "four," "store," etc. Sam was taught to cue "door" the way he said it [1-s/f,3/s]. He soon became an excellent cuer. He then moved with his family to a part of the U.S. where people generally say /dawr/, /fawr/, /stawr/, etc. Being a classroom teacher, Sam soon adapted his speech habits -- without realizing it -- to conform with his new oral environment; but his cueing habits remained the same. When we asked Sam recently why he said /dawr/ and cued /dohr/, he answered, "Because that's the right way to cue it!"

For Sam and for the rest of us, neutralizing those two causes mentioned above isn't as easy as we wish it might be. But we can try. The first step is to realize that specific instructions for cueing a speech sound in a word do not apply if the speech sound changes from some reason. Turn to PG-5: EF-C for examples of how sounds change in different contexts. It may also be helpful if, when consulting the "Cued Speech Guide to American Pronunciations of Common Words," you cue-and-say every possible variation in pronunciation of a given word -- even if you think you never talk that way. This will help to open up your "hearing" to variations.

It also helps to be less critical of American dialects other than your own. Those who poke fun at New Englanders who put an intrusive /r/ in "idea(r)" and "sofa(r)" may be saying "wa(r)sh" in their own dialect without ever hearing it! Being intolerant of someone else's dialect is risky business,because it can make us "defensive" about our own speech habits when we need very much to be objective.

To help you become objective about your own dialect, we have devised a Cueing Dialect Inventory. Before reading what follows the Inventory, make a tape recording of yourself saying the items in the Cueing Dialect Inventory. Please save the recording -- even though the results may shock you -- for careful review later on.

Advance to Dialect Inventory

Advance to PG-2: Consonants in Syllables
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