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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The President's Speech": An odd reaction to the President's Speech

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver SacksYou gotta love how language and culture collide especially when reading Oliver Sack's article, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (And Other Clinical Tales). Yes, the title had be rolling for a bit since I'd never really read the story per se. I had certainly never heard about aphasia before this witty piece.

The basis of this amusing yet educational article was how and why aphasia patients started to laugh as one of the most prolific speakers in presidential history, Ronald Reagan, spoke to the American public on television.

Aphasia.org defines aphasia as an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others, and most people with aphasia experience difficulty reading and writing.

The President's Speech: the reaction

There he was, The Old Charmer, the Actor, with his practiced rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal . A typical American would have reveled in the president’s keen words and delighted in the fact this president was able to inspire a nation.

On the other hand and in another realm, so to speak, the aphasia ward, filled with “crazies”, exploded with laughter. Why he or she may ask?

Albeit these eccentric individuals couldn’t see the meaning of words, they could understand prose and body language and they couldn't believe the fantastic lies they were being told live on by the President.

Aphasia patients can understand natural speech, as most men and women speak this way every day. Natural speech, the meaning, is somewhat detectable and understandable to patients. Mannerisms and simple utterances flow naturally, and to an aphasia patient, they are more normal. Contrived hand gestures and body movements seem robotic, as seen in the president’s speech.

Furthermore, the tone of the speech most definitely set the patients off, so much so, their laughter flooded the room. Henry Head mentions “he speaks of “feeling tones” in his treatise aphasia, and stresses how it is preserved, and often enhanced, in aphasiacs.”

What does this mean?
You cannot lie to aphasiacs. Body language and expression are much more powerful because words have no meaning. Therefore a slight smirk or wink will immediately set aphasiacs off, as a light bulb in your head goes off when you have an idea. It’s immediate sometimes and it acts on reactions, which are normally the right ones the first time you have them.

Therefore the aphasiacs are laughing at the falsified gestures and cadences and the abnormal tone of the speech.

Have you read The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks? Look at page 80 (Chapter 9). Once you have, tell me what you're interpretation was?

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