Why speech?

Cartoon by Frank Morell, for The New Yorker.

Why is speech a topic to spend your energy on?

Here’s two huge reasons.

1. Speech comes into pretty much everything we do

Not just things that require talking to other people (though there’s that).

Most of what we call ‘thinking’ is really speaking silently to ourselves. Well, ok, maybe not always so silently.

Speech is our most-used tool for thinking. And as you’ll know, the nature of a tool affects what you do with it. So the nature of speech affects our thinking, and everything we think about.

That means: if we have a completely wrong view of what speech is like and how it works (which we do), that’s going to have a major impact on our thinking about lots of other things – like the world, and ourselves, and other people.

2. Investigating speech creates major conceptual challenges

Drawing Hands, by MC Escher. Image from Wikipedia

If thinking about speech is really speaking about speech, it becomes a bit of a hall of mirrors. We’re using the tool to work on the tool!

So are we investigating speech – or are we investigating what we think about speech? Or how we speak about speech? How can we know? What difference does it make? What effect does it have?

That’s just a couple of small examples to show that getting to grips with the nature of speech requires engaging with some substantial philosophical puzzles in a deeply practical way.

In fact, it’s fair to say that speech is one of the most conceptually challenging topics you can find

If you can think well about speech, you can think well about anything. And the corollary is, if you can’t think well about speech, that compromises your ability to think well about all kinds of other things.

Not to be rude, but quite a lot of high-level philosophical and scientific discussion rests on assumptions about the nature of speech and how it works that just aren’t true. Rethinking these false beliefs makes a world of difference.

Now you’re probably itching for more detail. And that will come. But you really need to have a little bit of Rethink Speech under your belt before we get to the philosophical stuff.

Don’t worry – Rethink Speech won’t make you feel like this! Image from Pixabay

This little intro is just to help you see beyond the unfortunate reputation of phonetics (the science of speech) as a worthy but dull topic. It’s true it can seem that way when it is taught as a collection of technical facts about speech.

But when you start observing the real nature of speech, and investigating how it actually works in real life, things get a lot more interesting and a lot more relevant.

Even if you’ve found phonetics pretty ho-hum in the past, give Rethink Speech a go now. You have nothing to lose but some false beliefs.