I Can Hear You Whisper | Lydia Denworth

Summary of: I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language
By: Lydia Denworth


Embark on an intimate journey through the science of sound and language with this summary of Lydia Denworth’s ‘I Can Hear You Whisper’. Discover the intricate process by which our ears convert sound waves into electrical impulses that our brains interpret as sound. Learn about the unique challenges faced by those with hearing impairments, the vibrant culture that has developed around deafness, and the contentious debate between sign language and oral language in deaf education. This summary also delves into the development of cochlear implants and their impact on deaf education and culture.

The Fascinating Process of Hearing

The process of hearing is a complex way of converting acoustic energy into hydro-energy through the use of the outer, middle, and inner ears. The outer ear works as a funnel to the ear canal, which amplifies sound waves and directs them to the eardrum. Then, the sound wave travels through three small bones into the inner ear, where the cochlea converts it to hydro-energy that the brain interprets as sound. However, not all people can process sound within the “normal” 20 to 20,000 Hz range, leading to different methods of communication for hearing-impaired individuals. Nevertheless, deafness is not a lack of something but a unique identity that has inspired the development of a vibrant community culture.

The Power of Language Acquisition

Humans are born with an innate ability to learn language, but why is it that only humans have developed language? Experts suggest that the earlier children are exposed to language, the better they become at language acquisition. The amount of exposure to language is linked with a child’s IQ and ability to learn language. However, for deaf children, language development works differently. There are two methods for teaching deaf children: teaching them sign language or focusing on oral communication. Both methods have been proven to be effective. Nevertheless, the most crucial factor for deaf children’s language development is early identification of their deafness and providing them with the right teaching methods. Deaf education has its culture, and it varies to ensure that deaf children are taught in ways that are meaningful and productive for them.

Evolution of the Perception of Deafness

Throughout history, the deaf community has been misunderstood and often considered inferior by the hearing population. However, the perception has gradually evolved over time. From the oralist approach favored by Alexander Graham Bell to the advocacy of sign language, this evolution has given birth to the concept of deaf culture. This community, with its rich heritage and culture, promotes deafness as an identity to be proud of.

The Evolution of Hearing Aids

The deaf community began to assert their identity in the twentieth century as scientists developed tools to “cure” deafness. Early experiments repaired damaged ears, but technology and understanding were lacking. The invention of the telephone changed everything, leading to the first electronic hearing aids in the 1950s. Once scientists discovered hearing was produced by electrical impulses, artificial electrical hearing became a possibility. André Djourno was the first to experiment with induction coils to enable hard of hearing people to hear, but the implant stopped working. Otologist Bill House bypassed the cochlea to electrically stimulate the brain directly, conceiving the first cochlear implant, a device with a microphone and electrodes that processed sound into electrical signals sent to the person’s nerves. While the first cochlear implants weren’t perfect, they were a significant step forward in hearing aid technology. In 1984, House’s cochlear implant was the first of its kind to receive FDA approval.

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