Why rethink speech?

Photo credit: Brian Smithson

Phonetic science has made many important discoveries about the nature of speech and how it works. The thing is, hardly anyone knows about them – which is a shame, because important discoveries shouldn’t be kept secret!

That’s why Rethink Speech aims to bring them into the open, by fast-tracking you to the most fascinating findings of phonetics — in a special, and specially enjoyable, way.

What’s special about the Rethink Speech way?

Well, it takes account of the answer to an important but often overlooked question.

Why do so few know the findings of phonetic science?

The reason is, paradoxically, that everyone already knows so much about speech.

Image from Pixabay

How can that be?

Well, speech is part of ‘common knowledge’. We all learn in primary school that c+a+t = cat. We then build on that foundation, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout our lives.

It’s easy to assume that phonetic science simply adds more bricks to that foundation of common knowledge.

But that’s not right at all

Phonetic science has discovered that some of the most basic assumptions of ‘common knowledge’ are actually false beliefs.

That’s quite unsettling! It means phonetics doesn’t build on common knowledge, but undermines it.

It also means that learning phonetics well requires unlearning ideas we’ve accepted as factual information since childhood.

Unlearning is interesting, but difficult

And the most important unlearning is the hardest of all. Phonetics courses generally reserve it for the most advanced students.

Since very few of us study phonetics to advanced levels, false beliefs about speech remain rife in our society.

Does it matter?

It ain't what you don't know that gets intro trouble; it's for sure just so
A lot of people ‘know for sure’ that this quote originates from Mark Twain – but evidently that ‘just ain’t so’.

False beliefs don’t stop us using speech in everyday conversation – which is interesting, and we’ll come back to it.

Where false beliefs do get us into trouble is when they are used as the basis of important practical applications.

RTS specialises in three practical applications

All of them are negatively impacted by false beliefs about speech, often held by well-educated people with high-level responsibility for running our society:

  • forensic speech evidence in criminal trials
  • speaking and listening between native and non-native speakers of English
  • understanding literacy
  • building theories of how our minds work

Hang on! That’s four – and that last one doesn’t sound very practical!

At Rethink Speech we believe there is nothing so practical as a good theory – and conversely, nothing so impractical as a bad theory. And no theory so important as the one we use to think about ourselves.

You might find Rethink Speech makes you rethink more than just speech – you might even come to see yourself in a whole new way, as you gain appreciation for the taken-for-granted marvels of speaking, listening and thinking.

So there’s four reasons Rethink Speech wants to fast-track you to those advanced findings of phonetic science.

But to get you there in record time, we don’t just leap in! We start by thinking about what it actually means to ‘rethink’ something. Yes, it’s a diversion, but a useful one, and one that holds considerable interest in its own right.