Today was a special day for me; I officially began speech therapy. It has been two months exactly since my speaking voice has changed from my normal Midwest farmer’s daughter dialect to one that sounds clearly like that of a foreigner trying to speak English.
Though I had my initial analysis with the speech therapy department on May 20th, they had only the original neurologist’s diagnosis of “disarthria,” which is just an official word for “slurred speech”Â oftenÂ caused by a neurological problem in mechanically producing the sounds. However, my speech is not really slurred as much as “accented”.
My therapist today said that we will focus on identifying which sounds I am getting wrong and then correcting those sounds. She told me that I seemed to be doing a fairly good job of “catching myself” producing the incorrect sounds. There are just so very many sound combinations that are not coming out properly in my everyday speech that it is a LOT of work.
One of the sounds that I know I have a great deal of trouble with is the “TH” sound.Â The words “there or their”, “mother or father” are mispronounced as “Dar, mudder, and fadder.” That TH is a killer for me. When I try to slow down and really make my mouth form the sound it causes my tongue to tickle my lower teeth and lips together. It feels like when we used to make that kazoo sound by using a comb and a piece of paper OR when we took a very thick blade of grass held just-so in our cupped hands and blowing to produce that incredible buzzing sound like a kazoo.
Though I have spent the last two months working on putting the long A’s into words like table and baby. Now, the real work begins as I carry around a notebook and notate as many mispronounced words as I can. This phonetic journal should help me identify some of the biggest problems that I am having in accented speech. It is just that there are so very many accented words in my normal speech, that I get a bit discouraged as I wonder ifÂ I’ll be able to work my way back to my regular voice.
I got excited when my speech therapist said that she had worked with a lot of people with foreign accents… I suddenly felt like this was something I was not so alone in. However, then she corrected my thinking. These foreign speakers were actually from that other country, not like me. Unlike the Japanese lady that my therapist was able to help with r’s and l’s; my dialect is not from any one language so we don’t have the typical pointers like if you are from Sweden then you have very strong UU’s or French has a very nasal and broad A. My accent is literally “all over the map”.
So. . . where to begin?Â One word at a time. I remember two months ago when I first came out of the hospital I couldn’t say “yesterday,” without hitting hard brick walls between each syllable. Now, it is still somewhat slower that my old voice, but I have gotten that word to come out more naturally. One little victory with hopefully many more to come.
I was asked by several different people why I didn’t talk on WIBC radio this week. I told them that there was just too much happening in the world for me to even fit in the normal Tuesday morning time slot. Blessed boss of WIBC Tom Sevarino lost his battle with cancer. The “gloved one” Michael Jackson’s memorial service planned in California had all of the police and media in a tizzy. How could a small town gal with a rare disorder that is unknown by even much of the medical community compete with that? LOL. Nah, the radio producer even was kind enough to call to apologize, but I totally understand. News was happening.
It was funny, because one of my friends tweeted me fearing that she had missed the time slot of the report. She usually is driving into work at that time and finds the topics we discuss interesting. It has been eye-opening to see how very many people are familiar with Eastside Ellen’s foreign accent syndrome story. They all tell me that it is fascinating, which it is. I’ve run into people at the grocery store, church, the bank and recently the hospital who ask if I am Eastide Ellen. All of them smile!! Yes! They are also so kind as to show true empathy. These people are not just listening into a report, but are identifying with it. What would they do if this happened to them? That’s part of what I love about growing up and living in central Indiana; people really care about their neighbors.
At this point I am unsure as to whether I will continue to report at WIBC on Tuesday mornings. Perhaps the story is no longer newsworthy. I don’t know how programming decisions are made. All I do know is that I am going through something that is so very rare that even mainstream medical doctors don’t know how to handle it. There is an opportunity for pioneering medical research to be made, and I am the kind of person that will share it all. I totally believe that God remains in control of every detail. I trust that there is an ultimate good that will be realized as a result of this trial and the events that are happening even now. I derive great joy in knowing that there are people who are standing beside me in both “good thoughts” and prayers, who are as perplexed as I am. and who are as fascinated and dumbfounded as even the local medical community.Â We may not know the answers yet, but it is comforting to know that Hoosiers join together in an attempt to help each other.
It is for just such a reason that being on WIBC 93.1 FM “the News and Talk of Indiana” has been a great source of comfort, inspiration, intrigue and humor in a time that otherwise could threaten to undo a person. I am so very proud to call myself a Hoosier — albeit one that sounds like some kind of foreigner.Â I am still a farmer’s daughter, even though my voice may stand out a bit more when calling in the cows : D
While at a local Sams Club this last week, I heard some woman talking almost identically to my foreign accented voice. “What is that sound?” I knew that accent, yet I was not speaking, so I had to find out more about this. I sought out the source and came upon a woman who appeared to be in her seventies that was speaking with anyone around as she tried to locate a particular item in the store.
I went up to offer a suggestion on where she might look and offered to walk her there. As we walked, I decided to be brave enough to ask the question that I get asked so often since this foreign accent came upon me. “Where are you from?”
She said that she had been born in Chezlovakia, raised in Germany and spoke a total of five different languages. That is why she sounded familiar to me. It was not one particular accent that I was detecting, but several. Then the funny thing happened, she asked me where I was from. Then came the disbelief that I had not travelled outside of the areas closest to the United States. She was intrigues by the aspects of Foreign Accent Syndrome. She said that she heard accents of some of the languages she spoke in my speech. But when I sang for her and I had my true Hoosier, all-American “real” voice, she had an open mouth of astonishment. Ha! the amazement continues.
We talked a bit about perception of others of our accents. Why is it that we Americans try to place a person’s speech into a cubbyhole by assuming that a person is from a certain area? I discussed with this lady named Marguerite, that I believe it is because we strive to relate with other people. When we hear a different sound… I think there is a part of us trying to figure out why that difference exists.Â When a person speaks shouldn’t they sound “normal” like us? If they do not, then it must mean they are from somewhere else, right? That must mean that they are a “foreigner”.
As this week has ticked by I am now at my seventh week with this foreign voice. I am a bit discouraged by the fact that I still sound “different,” because I miss my “real” voice. It makes me sad to realize that when my Sweetheart husband of nearly 25 years calls me on the phone during the day, I get to hear the same voice of the man I fell in love with all those years ago. However, when I return the conversation, he is hearing the tone and sounds of a voice that he has only heard for seven weeks.
Regardless, it was not because of my voice that we fell in love and have stayed together all these years. It is despite the unforseen calamities and trials, that our loving relationship endures. It is as we place our trust in the fact that God remains in control, even and especially when we are not in control, that is what keeps us pressing on.