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What is Esophageal Speech?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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Esophageal speech is a type of speaking in which the vocal cords are not used. Instead, gas is released through the esophagus, in a manner similar to burping, to create speech. The esophagus functions in esophageal speech in much the same manner as the vocal cords in laryngeal speech, oscillating quickly to create distinct speech sounds.

Many people have experimented with a primitive form of esophageal speech in their youth. It is common among young boys to see how much of the alphabet they can say through burping, which is a relatively crude form of esophageal speech. Speech sounds are formed by swallowing air in order to induce burping, and then manipulating the mouth, tongue, and esophagus as the gas is expelled.

One of the most common treatments for laryngeal cancer is a laryngectomy, in which the entire larynx and connecting apparatus, including the vocal cords, are removed. A hole is then cut in the neck, and the trachea is re-attached to that hole, allowing the patient to breath through it. This rearrangement means that air no longer passes in the normal manner through the mouth and nose, and that the vocal cords and larynx are completely gone. This obviously makes traditional speech impossible.

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By breathing through the new hole, however, air can still be drawn into the esophagus. That air can then be pushed back into the mouth, and some basic articulation can occur. The resulting speech is substantially different from traditional laryngeal speech, but is still entirely intelligible. The volume of esophageal speech is reduced, and the pitch tends to be much lower, as high-pitched speech requires a great deal more energy. Esophageal speech is often described as sounding similar to that of someone with severe congestion from a cold or allergies.

Speaking this way requires a great deal more effort than traditional speech, as well, and even masterful speakers must speak at a somewhat slower rate than those speaking through their larynx. Speech rates for trained esophageal speakers range from about 80 to 120 words per minute, as opposed to around 120 to 200 words per minute for laryngeal speakers.

Many people who undergo a laryngectomy these days choose to begin with esophageal speech and phase their way to using a prosthetic implant for somewhat easier speech. Esophageal speech can take months to properly master, and many people turn to the electrolarynx immediately after an operation to resume speaking right away, without having to spend the time learning to fully control their esophageal speech.

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casta947
Post 5

I am studying linguistics and the study of sound and speech production interests me.

Often what happens with people who use an electronic larynx is that they are freaked out. But this is because they do not know about how the simplest way the machine works is that it emits a sawtooth wave oscilation of a glottal pulse of X-HZ. All you do is manipulate your vocal tract to produce the vowels. I have done some work with blowing into a reed instrument.

If you ever got a hold of an EL, you can do it. In fact, anyone can learn how to use it. You do not need to have a laryngectomy to learn how to use an electrolarynx. It is just that everyone focuses on the obvious that it singles us out and we elude the possibilities. But yeah, I did not start learning about esophageal speech until I became more mature, and I still find it interesting. You can even do this if you temporarily lose your voice when you have a sore throat. I am studying linguistics and the study of sound and speech production interests me.

Often what happens with people who use an electronic larynx is that they are freaked out. But this is because they do not know about how the simplest way the machine works is that it emits a sawtooth wave oscillation of a glottal pulse of X-HZ. All you do is manipulate your vocal tract to produce the vowels. I have done some work with blowing into a reed instrument.

live2shop
Post 3

I once heard a speech given by a man who spoke with esophageal speech. It was understandable, but just sounded strange. But consider the option of not being able to speak at all, or with great difficulty.

I have a friend who had a stroke not long ago. It left her able to understand what people say, but she can't respond. She is so frustrated.

It's great for those who get an electrolarynx. They can express themselves and respond to questions and comments. That's priceless.

Oceana
Post 2

I remember burp-talking as a kid. I didn’t know it had such an elegant term as esophageal speech!

I would take a large swallow of dark soda, which seemed to be the best type for producing gas quickly. Then, I could state an entire sentence while burping and moving my lips and mouth as I would when I talked regularly.

The boys always seemed to out-burp-talk me, though. Maybe they had greater lung capacities and could hold more gas. I had to drink more soda to keep up with them. Thankfully, around age 13, I began to become more lady like and grew disinterested in esophageal speech.

StarJo
Post 1

My friend’s dad had to have surgery after a bad car wreck. He had to have a laryngectomy, and he began using an electrolarynx to talk with esophageal speech.

His speech sounded really monotone and electronic. It was really disturbing to hear what once was this natural human voice turn into a computerized sound. My friend had a hard time getting used to hearing his dad talk this way.

For the first six months, he had nightmares in which his dad turned into a computer on wheels and followed him around stating orders in his electronic voice. After about a year, he grew accustomed to it, but I don’t think he will ever truly get over it.

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