The Sounds of Aboriginal Languages: Free public talk
The opening talk of this year’s Australian Linguistics Society conference will be a public lecture by Prof. Andy Butcher from Flinders University. Andy’s work is utterly fascinating; he looks at the sounds of Indigenous Australian languages and how this is possibly influenced by a hearing condition otitus media with effusion (OME), or ‘glue ear’. This is the summary from the website:
Chronic OME develops in the majority of Aboriginal infants in remote communities within a few weeks of birth, typically affecting hearing and the perception of speech sounds. Among the specific consequences of this are difficulties in hearing differences between sounds “t” and “s” in words like “tap” versus “sap”, or the “p” and “b” in words like “pack” and “back”. Given the importance of these sounds in distinguishing words, OME-induced hearing loss has been shown to disrupt speech and language development in English. It also may have an adverse role in the development of English literacy. Interestingly, the specific sound frequencies where hearing is not lost happen to be typically those that are used in the acoustic makeup of speech sounds in traditional Aboriginal languages.
In other words, these languages favour consonant and vowel sounds which exploit precisely that area of hearing ability which is most likely to remain intact in OME. Thus Aboriginal languages may be acoustically more robust than English as a medium of communication for those with OME-associated hearing loss.
The talk is on Tuesday the 1st of October at 5pm at The University of Melbourne. You can get more information and register here.