7b. Talking with just one vocal fold, or none

     Some students are surprised that the vocal folds are in fact two flaps of flesh and not one. How do you think we would sound with just one flap of flesh to produce voicing? Would speech even be possible?

     Actor Jack Klugman, who played "Oscar" in the TV series "The Odd Couple", had his right vocal fold removed surgically due to cancer of the larynx – he was a heavy smoker. After surgery he couldn't talk at all, other than in a whisper, but through rehabilitation, he was eventually able to speak again, albeit with a different-sounding voice. Click on the link below to hear an interview with Klugman broadcast over MPR on October 7, 2005, or choose a similar NPR interview from February 21, 2006:


     December 24, 2012 update on Jack Klugman:


     Some people have their entire larynx removed (this is called a laryngectomy) and are left with nothing at all to rehabilitiate. But many of these people regain the ability to speak. How is this possible?

     One thing people with no larynx can do is learn esophageal speech Dy, which is very difficult to master and sounds quite strange to those not used to it. Click on the link below to visit an illustrated page on esophageal speech, with an audio sample:


     Audio sample of esophageal speech:


     A variation of esophageal speech is called tracheoesophageal speech, and involves surgical implantation of a valve in the throat. Read about it and listen to an audio sample on this page:


     Audio sample of tracheoesophageal speech:


     Another alternative for people left without a larynx is to use an electrolarynx qʳ, or electronic larynx. The patient presses this battery-operated device to their neck or inserts a tube into their mouth, pushes a button, and the device mechanically adds vibrations to the stream of air coming up from the lungs. The patient then makes the same articulatory movements as for regular speech to form words. Again, you can produce understandable speech in this way, but it also sounds odd to those not accustomed to it. Click on the link below to visit a page about these devices, with audio samples (you will notice a big difference in quality from one device to the next):


     What is the most obvious difference between natural human speech, and esophageal/tracheoesophageal and mechanically-aided electronic speech?

     There is another kind of speech problem that causes one to be unable to speak, but for a very different reason. The cause is in the brain, not in the vocal folds. Here is a fascinating story about "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams's experience with spasmodic dysphonia:


The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

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