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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Some Defects of Voice and Speech in Children.

by Mrs. Emil Behnke.
Teacher of Voice Culture to Singers, Speakers and Stammerers.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 517-521


Voice, which is the organ of our thoughts, is one of the most wonderful and beautiful of the gifts of nature to mankind, and its possession places us immeasurably above the rest of animate and inanimate creation. The vocal sounds emitted by animals are devoid of music; and although the notes of the song-birds are charming, they do not compare in beauty with the cultivated human voice, with its power of giving expression to every passion and emotion which the human heart is capable of feeling.

This peculiar quality appears to be inherent in the human race: even the infant is able intuitively to express its desires by the tones of its voice. Pain, pleasure, hunger, temper, which comprise the whole world of its emotional capacities for the time being, can be recognized in its cries long before it has learnt by imitation to express itself in words.

Amongst English-speaking people the voice is often used in a very faulty manner, and much of this may be traced to the want of refined and educated supervision in the nursery, where sufficient care is not exercised to counteract the bad vocal and speech habits into which children fall. These are particularly disagreeable to the cultivated ear, and are often only overcome with difficulty in adult life, the voices of many persons being always tinged with the objectionable tone-colour acquired in childhood. It is as necessary for children to chatter at play as it is for them to incessantly move their limbs by running and jumping and skipping about, the growing muscles need the exercise; but coarse shouting and harsh tones should not be permitted, and it is easy to train the little ones to recognise and avoid them. There is nothing which young people imitate more instinctively and unconsciously than tones, inflections, modulations and pronunciations. As our children's nurses, governesses, friend and associates speak, so do our children. This faculty of imitation which we retain in adult life to a greater or lesser degree, may be turned to good account by taking heed that the vocal sounds heard by our little mimics are all pure and true, and that pronunciation is clear, distinct, accurate, and refined. It is a singular fact that defects of voice and speech are far more readily adopted by children than correct methods. The grasseyed r and the throatal or guttural r of some foreign nurses and governesses; every form of provincialism or cockneyism, a lisp, a nasal twang, a stammer, are frequently reproduced by the little ones with painful accuracy, and their eradication gives much trouble in after life. One case of inability to trill the r prevented a clever woman from obtaining a good engagement on the stage. She was, however, determined to conquer her faulty pronunciation which had been acquired by imitating a foreign nurse, and after three or four months' lessons and constant practice, she surmounted the difficulty and became a very successful actress with clear and good enunciation.

Lisping and the mispronunciation of th are sometimes occasioned by mere indolence, but more frequently by too large a tongue, by a defective formation of the hard palate, or by the shape and position of the teeth. When these faults arise from carelessness or inertness they may easily be corrected by judicious training. There is no difficulty in demonstrating the position of the tongue for pronouncing these letters correctly, and with ordinary care and determination it is soon accomplished.

A young barrister cause a roar of laughter in court by saying "Zentlemen of the Zury, the prithoner at the bar thandth accuthed of a motht heinouth crime," etc.! His friends being accustomed to his lisp, did not notice it, and he was considerably disconcerted to find the ludicrous effect his speech defect produced. About a dozen lessons put him in possession of the right pronunciation of our frequently recurring sibilant, and he no longer causes a smile by saying "Yeth, my lud."

A very curious mispronunciation of s is caused by a tight closure of the tongue against the palate, and the forcible expulsion of the air along the side teeth, between them and the cheeks. An unpleasant bubbling sound is thereby caused. This defective pronunciation is particularly difficult to cure, whether in children or adults, and it should be checked as soon as the habit is observed.

Where lisping is caused by defective formation of the palate, or by the position of the teeth a good specialist, and afterwards a dentist may be consulted. If it owes its origin to the tongue being too large for the mouth, exercises can be used devised by the late Emil Behnke, which will give command over its movements in a way quite astonishing to those who have never studied how to obtain voluntary control over supposed automatic muscular action.

The substitution of f for v, b for p, and vice-versa, is very common amongst children. The method of correction is so obvious that it would be waste of time to dilate upon it.

Quite as common, but more difficult of removal, are the vulgar habits of dropping the final g, or replacing it by k. The words in which these offences are most frequently perpetrated are something, nothing, and everything, which are as often pronounced without the final g (somthin', nothin'), as they are called somethink, nothink, everythink. As bad a fault is substituting the hard g used at commencement of syllables for the soft g which follow n at the end of words ringing, singing. (The incorrect sound given to these g's is that of g in gun). In a certain Midland town a part song was being taught to a class of ladies and gentlemen. The words ringing and singing occurred repeatedly in the refrain, and the singers pronounced the g's hard, the effect being most comical. After trying in vain for some time to get the correct pronunciation of the words, the teacher had to abandon the song for another in which there was no opportunity for the display of this marked provincialism.

Perhaps of all the consonants the letter r receives the worst treatment. Like the letter h it suffers from sins of omission and of commission, and it is also shockingly maltreated in its pronunciation, not only by children but by adults. It is left out at the end of words where it should be trilled on to the next vowel; it is even suppressed in the middle of words. How often one hears "mod'n" for "modern," "tav'n" for "tavern," "east'n" for "eastern!" At the end of words ah frequently takes the place of r, and w does duty for it at the beginning of many others. It is put where it has no business to be, between words ending and commencing with vowels, as "I saw-r-a man," "Victoria-r-our Queen." Many adults prefix r with w, saying wran, wrob, and the habit of using w instead of r after p and b is often continued in adult life. In Scotland and in the north of England only one pronunciation of r is used by the majority of the people, namely, the rolled or trilled r. It is the custom to laugh at Southerners for not trilling the letter in every word, but the Northerners are at fault in their pronunciation of it. They seem to be unaware that there are three well-defined ways of sounding r according to its position with regard to other consonants or vowels, the consonantal r, the vowel or liquid r, and the throatal r. To ignore the tow latter and to use only the consonantal or trilled r is as great an error as the habit of putting r between two words, the one ending the other commencing with a vowel: as "the idea-r-of it."

L is occasionally substituted for r with droll results. Said a boy to a visitor, "I've had such a lot of lice, I'm so uncomfortable!" His horrified listener, who had involuntarily drawn away from the boy, was glad of the explanation that the child always pronounced r like l, and the he meant to say he had eaten too much rice for dinner! The abuse of the letter h is far less common than it was twenty years ago, but it is still omitted or misplaced by some persons. We have heard of the wealthy parvenu who, displeased that his fish was not sent hot to table, told his footman to ask the cook to 'eat the fish and bring it up again when it was a little 'otter!

Mispronunciation of vowels is a very common fault, and it is surprising to note how many inaccurate shades of sound may be given to them. It is, however, difficult to represent them on paper. A, o and i suffer the most; indeed if greater care be not exercised to ensure correctness of sound in these letters, their true pronunciation will be lost.

The foregoing are a few of the most general faults of pronunciation which can all be traced to the imitation by children of bad models, and they can easily be corrected by the exercise of patient patterning. The innumerable errors of local dialects and provincialisms are obviously out of the scope of this article.

A frequent cause of after trouble to the little ones is the absurd habit indulged in by parents and nurses of talking "baby language" to them. Why must the poor little ones firth learn to call a horse "gee-gee"; their own feet "tootsie-wootsies," and so on. These idiotic expressions must subsequently be dropped and correct appellations be learnt. Instead of repeating infantile babble, and the childish attempts at talking, it would be more sensible if parents and nurses exercised the greatest care always to speak clearly and correctly to their little ones. Unfortunately the English people are sadly at fault in their manner of speaking their grand and noble language. Not only are words badly articulated and enunciated, but actual mispronunciations and bad grammar are allowed to pass, even by those who may claim to be educated persons. All beauty and sonority of tone are eliminated from our language, and it is charged with being hard, rough, and unvocal; whereas if properly spoken, it is second only to the Italian.

(To be continued.)

Parents Review Vol. 4 P. 581-584
Some Defects of Voice and Speech in Children.
By Mrs. Emil Behnke.
Teacher of Voice Culture to Singers, Speakers and Stammerers.

Part II.

We must now consider some voice and speech defects which are neither so simple nor so easily removed as the foregoing.

The voices of some children sound as though they were suffering from perpetual cold in the head. There is a peculiar muffled tone, and a difficulty in pronouncing m, n, b, and p. If no other symptom of a cold be present, and if the condition continue, skilled advice should be sought, as very much subsequent trouble may thereby be avoided.

Nasal tone, i.e., sending the tone through the nose instead of through the mouth, is another bad vocal habit, in regard to which we must remember that although it is occasionally the result of imitation, it is far more frequently caused by weakness and relaxation of the soft palate and uvula, and by enlarged tonsils. It is also sometimes accompanied by growths in the post-nasal passages, which greatly interfere with freedom in breathing. These conditions require medical aid. If a child habitually has the mouth open by day and by night, and if constant reminder does not enable him to overcome the habit, we may form the conclusion that he is unable to obtain a sufficient supply of air through the proper respiratory passagethe noseand unconsciously resorts to the pernicious habit of mouth-breathing. A good specialist should at once be consulted, and the impending growths reduced or removed.

Cleft palate, and other congenital malformations of the organs of speech are somewhat frequently met with; and it was formerly considered impossible to effect permanent improvement in such cases. But the great advance which has been made of late years in the manufacture of surgical appliances, and the high degree of skill to which mechanical dentistry has reached, have enabled many a patient to enunciate with a fair amount of distinctness, who had before been practically speechless. There is, however, as a rule, much which the voice-trainer has to do before perfect speech is obtained by the person afflicted with malformation of any part of the vocal and speech apparatus, after the surgeon and the dentist have completed their part of the work, especially in the removal of the unpleasant and strongly marked nasal quality of tone, and the mispronunciation of the majority of the consonants.

Mouth breathing, which is productive of serious throat affections, is a far more common fault than may at first be supposed. The mouth was never made for inhaling the air; that is the office of the nose, which is a natural respirator, being lined with tiny little cilia, which are incessantly moving to and fro, arresting and sifting from the air the dust and dirt and all foreign matter contained in it, thus filtering it and making it pure before it goes into the lungs. These particles are again thrown out of the nostrils, either by the outward passage of the breath or by blowing the nose. Another good office which is performed by the nose is temperating and moistening the air in its way through the long, narrow, winding passages; so that on arriving at the vocal apparatus the air has become sufficiently warmed not to chill the delicate surfaces. Now, nowhere in the mouth, throat, or windpipe is there any provision made for thus cleansing the air of its many impurities, or for warming it; therefore breath taken through the mouth finds its way into the lungs laden with the dirt, poisonous exhalations and other matter, which would be sifted out of it in its passage through the nasal channels. It would be easy to fill many pages on the dangers of mouth breathing, but all that space will allow is an emphatic and earnest injunction to mothers to encourage the habit of nose breathing in their children.

By no means an uncommon trouble is the distressing complaint, stammering or stuttering. There is a difference between the two forms of defect, [See Stammering: Its Nature and Treatment, by Emil Behnke, & Mrs. Emil Behnke.] but it is not so great as is often supposed, and for practical purposes the terms may be considered as almost interchangeable. The causes of this sad ailment are numerous. It would be difficult to find anything short of disease which exercises so serious and injurious an influence on the lives and characters of those so afflicted.

Every occupation, except manual labour, and all the professions are closed to the poor stammerer. The army and navy, the bar, the church, the stage, teaching: in short, any vocation where speech is required is impossible to him. He too often becomes from early childhood the butt for teasing, ridicule, and sarcasm. Self-consciousness and nervousness increase, until morbid shyness and the dread of making himself a laughing-stock or an object of pity cause him to remain silent when he might join in conversation, and he shrinks more and more from his fellows, until he eventually becomes a misanthrope, and his whole life is embittered.

As a rule, stammering commences in early childhood, and it may be that judicious training on a physiological basis would check the evil at its commencement. Unfortunately the majority of parents, and even of medical men, pay little attention to the trouble from the mistaken notion that the child will "grow out" of stammering. In some few instances, as self control increases, the speech defect diminishes; but this only comes at mature age when the best part of a man's life has been passed. In the vast majority of cases the child will no more grow out of stammering than he will grow out of physical deformity.

The exciting causes of this speech trouble are numerous, and many of them must be dealt with be medical treatment before the actual stammering can be removed. But medical and surgical treatment alone cannot break through old habits of speech and create new ones; this must be carefully and patiently accomplished by the skilled teacher.

Is stammering curable? is a question often asked of the writer. From long and varied experience in every form of this distressing malady in sufferers of all ages, from nine years old up to sixty, I can unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. If all exciting causes are first removed, and sufficient time and determination given to carrying out the method of cure, all stammering, with the one exception of that which proceeds from the brain, accompanied by idiocy or lunacy, can be successfully treated. Even in stammering of the latter type, cures of the speech trouble have been effected, and the brain power developed to an extraordinary extent. These are always very difficult, but very interesting cases; the pleasure of giving not only freedom of speech,  but of lifting a fellow creature from the dark night of clouded intellect is very great.

One serious drawback to complete success of cure is the almost universal unwillingness to devote sufficient time to the work. Three months is the minimum of time for even slight cases, while many severe forms of stammering require from six to twelve months of constant and careful treatment. When we consider that old speech habits have to be unlearned and entirely new ones formed; that regular and rhythmic action of the muscles concerned in the formation of voice and speech must be acquired, in the place of the jerky and spasmodic movements of the stammerer, and that all this ahs to be made second nature to him, one wonders that it is possible to produce good and lasting results even in a year, although as a fact but very few cases require more than half that time, and some much less. A remarkable case at present under my care is that of a lady thirty years of age, who had always been a very bad stammerer, and who had previously been treated by a gentleman during many weeks, with the result that the trouble became worse instead of better. After three days' lessons with me she ceased to stammer, and has never had the slightest relapse during her three months' residence in my house. Her relatives and friends, some of them medical practitioners, are naturally astonished and delighted.

The question is frequently asked: how young can children be taken in hand for cure of speech trouble. As a rule the speediest results are obtained between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five. Quite young children, having little or no self control, forget almost as soon as they are taught. If they could remain a year or more under treatment they would certainly be perfectly cures; and when we remember how sadly a child is hindered in education and in mental development by a speech defect, we must admit that no sacrifice can be too great to remove that defect.

It is impossible to write rules for the cure of stammering.

No two persons stammer alike, therefore each case must be dealt with according to its peculiar idiosyncrasies, and the treatment modified or changed to meet the various phases of the trouble. But let no speech-sufferer despair; patience and perseverance in the right method of cure will ultimately give unfettered speech.