Category Archives: Miscellany

The Truth is Out There – Or Not

It’s no secret – nor a crippling blow to the ego – that as far as Social Media popularity goes, there are cats and serial killers that draw more followers and readers than the Speech Dudes. In fact, if we were to post more pictures of cats and become serial killers ourselves we could probably push up the numbers significantly. This absence of interest applies to our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account, although to be brutally honest with ourselves, the output to any of these has been pretty spartan of late.

However, a recent reply to a tweet did snag us a few more likes than we are used to, and it didn’t include a picture of a kitten. The original tweet was about the nature of academic publishing as a “paid-for” sport i.e. having research papers treated more as an academic version of vanity press rather than a “free exchange of ideas.” Here’s the original comment:

In a moment of weakness, I responded with a more general comment about the effect that this can have on the world of public discourse:

This drew a number of “likes” and a perfectly valid comment about how sites such as PubMed can provide free access to some articles. But I don’t believe Facebook or Twitter are effective platforms for reasonable discourse so I decided to take a little time to create a blog post to examine this further. Contrariwise, I do believe that Facebook and Twitter are splendidly effective platforms for unreasonable discourse, in fact, it’s pretty much something at which they excel!

I’m sure there was a time when folks naively felt that Facebook would be a glorious democratic forum for John Stuart Mill’s “marketplace of ideas,” where anyone and everyone could expound their beliefs, discuss them with others who had different perspectives, and through logic and reason come to some form of consensus that would ensure stability and understanding amongst the populace.

Well, that’s not at all how it’s worked out has it, boys and girls? Although Freud is seen these days as little more than a historical curiosity, obsessed by sex and having mommy issues, his more general commentaries still ring true over a century from when he first began writing. In Thoughts for the Times, written in 1915 during World War One, he said:

In reality our fellow-citizens have not sunk so low as we feared because they had never risen as high as we believed.

Thoughts for the Times (1915, Standard Edition XIV, p.285)

In times of war, the comfy warm overcoat of rational civilization gets taken off and the true nature of man’s inhumanity to man is revealed in the most cruel, remorseless, and shocking ways, made all the worse by the fact that people at the time don’t see what they are doing as “cruel,” “remorseless,” or “shocking” but easily convince themselves that there is some good and noble purpose in what they do. And as well as potentially arming themselves with guns and knives, they also arm themselves intellectually with the weapon of rationalized brutality.

In a recent conversation with my sister, who lives in the UK, she strenuously criticized the “Black Lives Matter”[1] movement saying that “All Lives Matter,” but then went on to argue vociferously that George Floyd “deserved what he got” because he had a criminal record. Then, when I asked her about refugees crossing the English Channel, she said that they should be sent back and “bombed in the water.” Clearly, not “all lives matter.” And like a depressing number of folks with similar views, she stressed she’s “not a racist” and merely against “foreigners coming to our country and getting free stuff.” This, of course, doesn’t apply to multi-national companies who get tax breaks and grants, which is also “free stuff.”

The casual disregard for the lives of refugees is how she (and others) rationalize brutality. When I pointed out that children have drowned along with their families trying to get into other countries, she says that’s the fault of the parents and it’s their fault. Countering with reminding her how English parents during Word War II sent their children from the London area to the relatively safer north of the country as “refugees,” she said it was different. Yet in both cases we have parents trying to do something to protect their children but one is “bad” and the other is “good.

One of the tools that leads to the development of rationalized brutality is the propagation of lies. Call them “untruths” or “alternative facts” or even “playful hyperbole,” a fib is a fib is a fib. It doesn’t help that we live in a world where lies are treated as being somewhat acceptable, where the “little” in “little white lies” is a lot bigger than folks might want to admit. Add to this the clearly observable fact that in cyberspace, not only are lies amplified and propagated with ease but there are no really effective ways to sanction lying or punish liars. Even an ex-President of the USA who gets banned from social media platforms still gets to tell whatever lies he wants and be heard on the global stage. Any bleating that he’s “censored” is demonstrably untrue – and the same goes for anyone who claims to be a “victim of cancel culture” who is simultaneously tell you about it!

We either live in the Upside-Down or Orwell’s Newspeak dystopia – choose your metaphor. Bad is good; wrong is right; false is true; and “alternative facts” are just as legitimate as “facts.” If the Truth is, indeed, out there, then it’s turning out to be much harder to find than we used to think. The phrase “my truth” has become something of a mantra with many more people than we’d like to believe. And even the phrase, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts” seems increasingly hollow in a world where, according to a recent Monmouth University poll [2], one-third (32%) of Americans continue to believe that Joe Biden’s presidential victory in 2020 was due to unproven and unsubstantiated voter fraud. Facts have no bearing on these type of belief, and no amount of evidence will change the mindset of someone who has created a mental model of the world that reflects their own construction of a personal reality that appears to run parallel to world in which other people live.

Don Henley had it right in his “The Garden of Allah” is the following soliloquy from “the stranger:”

I am an expert witness because I say I am
And I said gentlemen (and I use that world loosely)
I will testify for you, I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar
Because there are no facts, there is no truth
Just data to be manipulated.
I can get you any result you like
What’s it worth to you?
Because there is no wrong, there is no right
And I sleep very well at night,
No shame, no solution, no remorse, no retribution
Just people selling t-shirts,
Just opportunity to participate in the pathetic little circus
And winning, winning, winning. [3]


[1] The hashtag, as a Twitter-specific phenomenon, is another example of how poorly such social media platforms handle complex issues. With it’s initial restriction of only 140 characters in a tweet, any attempt to encapsulate an idea into a string of text was doomed to failure. The idea that there’s some magical way to keep things “short and sweet” has always seemed to me to be chimeric and an excuse for folks to simply not put together a coherent set of arguments in a longer piece of text. At best, hashtags such as #metoo, #defundthepolice, and #blacklivesmatter serve as social markers that only loosely try to address difficult and complicated topics. They are models of linguistic imprecision that end up making discussion more heated than productive. For example, critics of #defundthepolice are free to frame the argument along the lines of suggesting that the aim is to literally stop funding a police force and thus end up leading to a lawless society. Of course, that’s not what it means but the minimal, limited structure of the hashtag leaves that avenue of attack wide open. Similarly #blacklivesmatter invited the simple retort of “no, all lives matter” because there’s enough ambiguity in the hashtag to allow it. In short (no pun intended) the brevity of Twitter makes it a terrible platform for debate and discussion.

[2] Monmouth University Polling Institute, June 21, 2021:

[3] “So much winning!”

“‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy!”

Watching the French Open Men’s final last week, I was primarily focused on the action on court between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas and only half-listening to the commentary. As we all know, “half-listening” can be a very dangerous thing – or on the upside, pretty funny. As the players headed off for a quick rub down with a cold towel, I swear I heard one of the commentators say, “Djokovic was definitely hit in the balls.”

New balls please

This comment instantly turned my semi-attention to full-blown concentration, and I wondered if I’d missed some action on the screen. After all, being smacked in the scrotum by a ball traveling at somewhere in the region of 85-95 miles-an-hour isn’t something you’d fail to notice. At that sort of speed, your meat-and-two-veg are likely to swell up to the size of a melon and a vigorous massage from your physio isn’t going to offer any help whatsoever. So did I really miss one humdinger of a nut nobbling?

It took me maybe a minute to work out that what was actually said was, “Djokovic was definitely hitting the balls.” Clearly I had fallen victim to a spectacular mishearing, or what is commonly called a mondegreen. Given that in spoken language, many of the individual sounds at the beginning and end of words will blend and overlap with others, the phrases “hitting the balls” and “hit in the balls” can be identical.

The process at work here is called phonetic assimilation and it happens all the time. And I mean, all the time. What we think we hear and what actually reaches our brain is often different from what we might believe. In rolling speech, “hit in the balls” will be /’hɪtɪnðəˌbɔlz/ and “hitting the balls” will also be /’hɪtɪnðəˌbɔlz/. That /ŋ/ sound in “hitting” (/’hɪtɪŋ/) becomes an /n/ because it assimilates with the preceding /t/sound, which is made by tongue against the back of the teeth (what we call an alveolar sound) and also with the /ð/ sound that’s also made with tongue between the teeth (or an interdental). The /ŋ/ sound is made at the back of the mouth up towards the soft palate (a velar location) but the process of assimilation in connected speech pulls it forward to become a regular old /n/ sound.

Assimilation is the basis for mondegreens, phrases that are misheard, often to humorous effect but sometimes to the detriment of the listener. The word itself comes from a mishearing of a poem called The Bonny Earl of Murray, which contains the line “They have slain the Earl o’Moray and layd him on the green,” and that in turn was interpreted as, “They have slain the Earl o’Moray and Lady Mondegreen.” It’s a plausible mistake because it’s not impossible that a double murder could have occurred with the Earl and his Lady being the hapless victims. But if we consider the phonetic forms, we can easily see how “laid him on the green” and “Lady Mondegreen” can sound alike:

  • Laid him on the green: /’laɪdɪm’ɔnðəˌgrin/
  • Lady Mondegreen: /’laɪdɪ’mɔndəˌgrin/

The stress in the second syllable changes and the /ð/ becomes a /d/ in the second instance, but what we might consider to be clear, phonetic differences when written down can be much less clear when spoken and heard. Also, the words in spoken language are separated by spaces like they are in text – they simply all run together into one long stream of sound. It’s the listener that has to decide where the “spaces” are, and it’s not uncommon to get that wrong [1].

The internet is full of examples of misheard lyrics for songs that have become almost classic example of mondegreens. In Jimmy Hendrick’s Purple Haze, “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” gets heard as “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”; George Michael’s I Want Your Sex includes “Sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should,” which turns into, “Sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it, not everybody should”; Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer has “Doesn’t make a difference in we make it or not” that sounds like “Doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”; and even I thought for years that when Dobie Gray sang Drift Away, the chorus was “Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul…” instead of “Gimme the beat boys and free my soul…”

In his classic book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud called such errors “verhören,” which is German for mishearing [2]. His focus wasn’t on the underlying linguistic errors based on the misinterpretation of assimilation processes but on the words actually misheard and what that might say about the individuals underlying psyche. What he’d make of a patient hearing “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” hardly takes six years of Psychoanalytical training to work out but if you’re hearing Abba sing “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen” or Queen sing, “You got mud on your face, big disgrace, kicking your cat all over the place,” then maybe Dr. Freud needs paging after all!


[1] Although I’m no fan of Donald Trump and take pleasure in hearing and seeing his gaffs, it would be uncharitable of me not to come to his defense in relation to his much ridiculed use of the word “bigly.” What really happened is that he said the phrase “big league” with a weaker stress on the second element “league,” which was in turn misheard by reporters as “bigly.” If you’re not convinced, just try yourself to say “big league” but let that final /g/ sound weaken slightly and you’ll hear that it easily becomes “bigly.” From /’bɪglig/ to /’bɪgli/ is a dropped final consonant away, a process that is stunningly common in connected speech. And as a bonus, I can tell you that “bigly” is a real word that dates from the 15th century and, as an adverb, means “With great forced, firmly, violently; or loudly, boastfully, proudly, haughtily, pompously.” As an adjective, it means “habitable, fit to live in,” and was used in Scotland until it became obsolete in the early 19th century.

[2] Freud introduced a number of such errors, or what he labeled parapraxes (German Fehlleistungen), that begin with “ver-“: Versprechen (slips of the tongue); Verschreiben (slips of the pen); Verlesen (misreading); Verhoren (mishearing); Vergessen (forgetting of names or intentions); and Verlegen (the misplacing of things). When folks talk about someone making a “Freudian Slip” it’s usually a spoken error – a Versprechen – but as you can see, Freud had a much more extensive classification set to errors. Many of these errors are nowadays analyzed as linguistic phenomena rather than psychoanalytical – but it’s fun to try!

As a side note to the side note, if you intend reading just one of Freud’s books in your life, although The Interpretation of Dreams is typically considered his magnum opus, I highly recommend The Psychology of Everyday Life as an alternative. Along with Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, he builds on many of the themes that he wrote about in The Interpretation of Dreams and applies them to non-pathological areas of life.

How Many Books Can You Read in a Year?

Since 2010, I’ve recorded the title of every book I’ve read. I appreciate that sounds oddly obsessive but what’s life without some quirky behavior. For the semi-curious, here’s a chart that illustrates the numbers:

As the data shows, the best I’ve managed to do is 56 way back in 2012 and the worst was 22 in 2017. I suspect part of that can be explained by the little known fact that I went through a period of clinical depression, and that might mark a low point prior to my actually admitting there was a issue and doing something about it. But now I’m back up to 52 in 2020, which by my math works out at one per week.

The problem comes when I try to compare those figures with others available on the interwebs. Now I’m fully aware that the concepts of “peer-reviewed content” and “objective data” don’t apply to the virtual world so anything you read has to be taken not only with a grain of salt but a bushel of the stuff. So if the question is, “How many books does the average person read in a year?” then I shouldn’t be surprised to find that the numbers run from zero to 200. One of the more irritating numbers comes from the world of management “science”[1] that states the average CEO reads 60 books per year, which in turn is usually followed by some pabulum about how anyone who wants to be a CEO should do the same, and that this is why “good” CEOs are so smart and successful. Of course, none of these articles citing the “60 Books” tell you anything about those CEOs who read that many yet totally fail and go out of business. Nor do they offer any guidance as to why 60 is the magic number? In fact, they don’t even tell you which books to read – except the one written by whoever is promoting the “60 Book” theory.

More irritating is that nobody seems to have any links to peer-reviewed studies that support the 60 Book hypothesis, yet it pops up over and over with disturbing regularity. Go ahead, open up a search engine and type in “CEOs books per year” and see what I mean. You’ll find yourself in a morass of blog posts, magazine articles, Reddit discussions, and yet there’s no solid evidence to support the 60 Books other than the assumption that “someone” has done the research.

And to keep my irritation level high, after working hard to hit my 52 books in a year target and thinking I’d “done good,” a Facebook friends posts that she’s “already read 20 books in January” so is well on her way to her target of 100 in a year. 20 in a month? She apparently has a job but still gets 20? Folks, sitting next to my chair is a copy of the Norton Critical Edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that’s about 1000 pages long and written in Middle English; dare I say that the chance of me reading that in a day or two is slimmer than the chance of Donald Trump saying, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” And on deck is the one-volume version of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, which clocks in at over 750 pages. Sure, I can balance this out with the relatively slim Linguistics and Literary History: Essays in Stylistics written in 1948 by Leo Spitzer, but with chapter titles such as “The Style of Diderot” and “Linguistic Perspectivism in Don Quixote,” I’m guessing it ain’t going to be a breezy read.

Of course, no-one reads such heavy duty stuff all the time, and last year’s readings included classic Sci-Fi from Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Bob Shaw, along with thrillers from Jonathan Kellerman and Lee Childs, and those are books you can read in a couple of days if you switch off the TV or stay up late. It’s pretty obvious that the notion of “how many books can you read” has more variables involved than just number of pages.

And that’s precisely why it’s so hard to accept that blanket statement of “60 Books” because there is no real data out there that looks at how you measure it. Heck, what does it even mean to “read” a book, because some of the “How to be a better manager” or “Be a CEO” books out there seem to think that skimming is reading – which it’s not. What I want is some good, decent, peer-reviewed research and I can’t find it.

So over to you, my friends. Does anyone have some good, solid references to support the “60 Books” claim, or can you let me into the secret of how to hit that magic number? Maybe my inability to do it is why I’m not a successful CEO!


[1] To paraphrase an old saw, “Those who can, do; those who can’t become management consultants.” And in the world of management consultancy, there are so many books that I’m actually surprised they have time to consult. Or perhaps the reason there are so many books is that’s all they are doing. As you might guess, I have little love for management consultants – but then again I’m something of a cantankerous, old, misanthrope and wish H.L. Mencken were still writing.

There’s a Word for That? Seriously?

The Speech Dudes are nothing if not quirky when it comes to content for a blog post. You might think that being Speechies working in the field of AAC we’d be keen and eager to write endless articles about how to best serve the population who would benefit from being provided with aided solutions to help communication. And yes, we do that from time to time because we really do want to share any thoughts and ideas we might have that have some value. But our interests extend outside of our careers into other aspects of life. And for Dude One (Russell) a more general fascination with language as a cultural phenomenon means that the very stuff of communication as a whole provide an endless source of spell-binding interest.

Which is why the discovery of a new word can be so exciting and mind-boggling that I’m finding it hard not to share. It’s not that the new word is one that I’m likely to use in everyday conversation but the more enchanting question is why the word exists in the first place.

The word is aproctous, and means “without an anus.” And if you’re now thinking, “Dude, why would you ever need to use that?” then you’re exactly in the place I am. It comes from the Greek meaning “without” and πρωκτός meaning “anus.” It’s such an odd word that it’s not even an official Scrabble word, which is a shame because that’s possibly the only situation in which I might actually use it.

To check how folks might be using it I turned to the iWeb Corpus, a web-based collection of over 14 billion words from 22 million web pages. Surprisingly, there is not ONE single example of aproctous to be found, and includes any posts like this one talking about how aproctous isn’t used!

Of the instances where it appears, the primary use is in zoology to describe two sub-branches of the class of animals called Brachiopodia called Rhynchonellidae and Terebratuladae, which, bizarre as it may sound, don’t have an ass. Of course, I’m sure they have some other way of expelling waste as an alternative but quite frankly I don’t have the time nor inclination to spend time finding out. Suffice to say that in relation to the word itself, its use in biology is fairly narrow.

There was also a Death Metal band from 1991 called Aproctous who appear to have had a stunningly unsuccessful career, probably not as a result of their choice of band name. But other than those references, there are no other significant example of the word being used.

I’m great believer in giving rare and obscure words their moments in the sun. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to say something like “We enjoyed the brastling campfire” [1] or “It was so cold that Dan was left with a nirled scrotum” [2] or perhaps “I bought my oranges from the local oporopolist” [3], all of which contain words that are stunningly rare but, to my ears, really do deserve to be aired at least once per decade.

Still, if you can find a way to slip aproctous into a conversation, by all means do so – and make sure you let us know how it went.


[1] brastle (v.): To crackle, clatter, and roar as a fire. Old English “brastlian.”

[2] nirled (adj.): Shriveled, shrunken, stunted, frozen. Middle English “knurre.”

[3] oporologist (n.): A fruit seller. Greek ὀπώρα meaning “late summer, fruit time” + πώλης meaning “seller.”

Parsing Does Matter

One of the things we like to promote as the Speech Dudes is that the skills and knowledge that Speech Pathologists/Therapists learn can be put to use outside the field of Speech Pathology in general. To our way of thinking, that serves to encourage the rest of the world to recognize that SLPs are not just “twin-set and pearls” ladies who help people “speak correctly” but also talented individuals whose years of training and experience can be used to comment on and critique the broader topic of “human communication.”

Which brings me to the following sign and the Case of the Unauthorized U-turn.

Emergency and Authorized Vehicles Only

As my wife and I were heading for dinner at a local brew pub, she noticed a car making a U-turn on a divided highway at a gap where this sign was present. “Oh,” she said, “Look at that. He’s not allowed to make a turn there.” At this point, the SLP in me kicked into gear.

“Well,” I replied, “that’s not necessarily true because the sign is lexically ambiguous.” Before you worry too much, we’ve been married for close on 35 years so she’s completely unsurprised when I use phrases like “lexically ambiguous” in a casual conversation. So when she asked “What do you mean,” it wasn’t for a definition of lexical ambiguity but for an explanation of the nature of the ambiguity.

I think the intent of the sign is to use the phrase “emergency and authorized” as an adjectival pre-modifier for vehicles with the and working simply as a coordinating conjunction along the lines of:

NOUN PHRASE [(ADJ <emergency + <and> + authorized>) + (NOUN <vehicle + s>)]

So the whole thing is a single noun phrase consisting of an adjective, a noun and an adverb. Fair enough.

However, you can also interpret it as TWO sentences [1], where the first uses the word emergency as a noun, which is then yoked by and to the second sentence, which is about “authorized vehicles.”

NOUN PHRASE [(NOUN <emergency>) + CONJ (and) + NOUN PHRASE [(ADJ + (NOUN )]

The adverbial element of only doesn’t really help because whether you choose the single- or two-sentence interpretation makes no difference. That’s why I have conveniently left it out of the analysis [2].

What makes it more ambiguous is that there is, in fact, an implied rather than actual subject to the sign, along the lines of “This gap in the road can be used for…” and so both the following interpretations would be fair game:

“This gap in the road can be used for an emergency” and;

“This gap can be used for authorized vehicles.”

In the event that the offender was stopped by the police, I would think that a smart lawyer could argue that is he/she was making a U-turn because there was a definable emergency (“I just got a call from my wife telling me she thought someone was skulking around in the yard”) and if that is true, then it was a legitimate maneuver.

The fundamental ambiguity stems from the fact that the word emergency can used both as a noun and an adjective but authorized can only be an adjective or a verb. So you can have both “an emergency situation” and “an authorized situation” but although you can have “I had an emergency” you can’t have *”I had an authorized.” On the other hand, you can have “The vehicle was authorized” but not *”The vehicle was emergency.”

Of course, one option is simply to use the following sign instead:

A No U-turn sign

You’re welcome, Ohio Department of Transportation.

[1] I know I’m running a little fast and loose with the term sentence here but hopefully you understand the basic idea. For the purpose of the article, I’m adopting the fairly liberal definition of a sentence as “a group of words that express a single idea.”

[2] One of the challenges – for me – with a blog post is that for every sentence I write or word I use, I feel like I could write a separate paragraph on each. This is especially true when I make a statement that I think someone might want me to support by evidence. That’s not, in of itself, a bad thing because as a Speech Therapist I would want to be able to use a evidence-based approach to my practice. But the danger is that you get stuck in the infinite regression of “prove it” for everything you say. In fact, in the world of politics. that’s an actual tool you can use to prolong discussions to the point that nothing gets done. So you can say things like, “Despite what people believe, the average US citizen is 407,000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than at the hands of a terrorist; or 6 times more likely to be killed by a shark” to which a supporter of travel bans from predominantly Muslim countries will respond, “And where did you get those figures?” So if you then say, “The National Safety Council and the National Center for Health Statistics report for 2013,” the next response is “How did they arrive at those numbers?” At this point, you begin to see where this is going and with each supporting statement and new “appeal to your sources” will be made. If you keep this up long enough, nothing changes.

A Year of Core Words With Unity® 2.0

If I haven’t mentioned it before, the reason I left the UK and moved to the US some 22 years ago was to take over the lead in the long-term development of the Unity® vocabulary program that is available on all Prentke Romich Company (PRC) devices. We actually started working on the Unity system in 1993, and at that time I would visit the US every two months for a one-week period. When the offer to take over the running of the project came up in 1995, my wife and I decided to sell up, ship out, and join the ranks of the “Ex-Pat” communities of English folks scattered across the world.

22 years later, after several iterations of devices and software, PRC have now released what’s called Unity 2.0, a newer version of the original that beefs up on the number of vocabulary items that are pre-stored and adds a slew of new icons, which should appeal to those folks who think that “more is better” when it comes to pictures. I’m not actually of that school, and at some point I’ll put together a few blog posts to explain why. As I’m no longer the head of the Unity project (I have other fascinating projects to work on) and so my role in the current iteration has been more consultative than directive. But what I can do in my spare time is create materials to support the teaching of the system.

Unity 2.0 vocabulary system

In my previous post, I mentioned the recently released Unidad® Spanish bilingual program and provided a link to a set of free resources for using it along with Carole Zangari’s popular A Year of Core Vocabulary Words program. I’m now adding the same resources for the 60-, 84-, and 144-key versions of Unity 2.0. They are stored as zip files at the Speech Dudes’ Box account and here’s what each packet contains:

  • A Year of Core Words Unity 60/84/144: A PDF manual with each page containing a different month and the icon sequences used for the words to be taught.
  • Cheat Sheets folder: A set of 12 documents that simply list alphabetically the words and icons on a month-by-month basis.
  • Word Lists folder: A set of 12 text files that can be imported into a PRC device for use with the Vocabulary Builder feature. Once you’ve imported the lists, just (a) choose list of the month and (b) turn ON the Vocabulary Builder and all you’ll see are your target words.
  • Read Me First: A single-page document with information about the packet.

For those of you familiar with the PRC device feature called embellished icons [1], the resources have been created to be used with embellished icons turned OFF. The biggest advantage of this is that there are fewer actual icons to learn than you would with the feature turned ON, and as a “less is better” proponent, I’d recommend you teach the core vocabulary in that way. Should anyone be inclined to create a set where embellished icons are turned on, let me know and I’ll add those to our Box account.

Click below to download the materials.

DOWNLOAD: Unity 60

DOWNLOAD: Unity 84

DOWNLOAD: Unity 144

Feel free to share these materials with other folks using Unity and as before, all we ask is that you occasionally mention the Dudes 😉

[1] This is a feature unique to PRC devices where you can choose to have two different sets of icons available to you. Turning embellished icons off gives you a smaller icons set than having embellished icons on. If you want some numbers, you have to learn 87 different pictures to be able to use the 144 words in A Year of Core Vocabulary if embellished icons are off; if  you turn them on, you have 178 different pictures to learn. Your choice.

A Year of Core Words with Unidad® 36- and 84-locations

Way back on the 8th January, 2013 – a date I remember because it’s my birthday, along with Stephen Hawking and Kim Jong-un, and the late David Bowie and Elvis – Carole Zangari from the College of Health Care Sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Florida posted her influential and very prAACtical “A Year of Core Vocabulary Words.” Clipped directly from the site itself;

…we created 12 grids of core vocabulary words – one for each month of the year. Each grid has 12 cells labeled with core words. Plug in the AAC symbols that your client uses (e.g., PCS, SymbolStix, Unity, Pixons, etc), print, laminate, and keep them handy.

One of the great things about the “Year for Core” is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving! You can start using it at anytime you like and over a span of 12 months you can teach 144 really useful words regardless of the medium you use. As the author of Unity® 84, I wanted to make sure people who were using Carole’s vocabulary had some supports available, so I created a set of Cheat Sheets, text files that could be imported in a PRC device to use with Vocabulary Builder, and a single document in the “page-per-month” style Carole had original developed with all the symbols, as she suggested, already “plugged in.”

Printed sheets for teaching a year of core words

Now here we are in April 2017 and PRC has launched a new Spanish bilingual program called Unidad® in both 36- and 84-key versions. For folks who want to follow the “Year of Core Words” approach, I’ve put together a new set of support materials that you can download and print out. Here’s what the pack includes:

  • A Year of Core Words Unidad English 36/84: A PDF manual with each page containing a different month and the icon sequences used for the words to be taught.
  • Smart Charts folder: A set of 12 documents that simply list alphabetically the words and icons on a month-by-month basis.
  • Word Lists folder: A set of 12 text files that can be imported into a PRC device for use with the Vocabulary Builder feature. Once you’ve imported the lists, just (a) choose list of the month and (b) turn ON the Vocabulary Builder and all you’ll see are your target words.

The 36-location version might seem simpler/easier (36 is less that 48, yes?) but I recommend that unless there are physical or visual reasons against it, always go for the 84. In fact, always go for the most keys you can in general.It might seem counter-intuitive but more keys can be easier than less. It’s just basic mathematics. If I have a vocabulary of 500 words and a keyboard of 8 buttons, then I can only have 7 single-hit words represented before having to use the 8th key to go to another page, and that means the next set of words are 2-hits. To encode 500 words you’re going to have to use sequences of up to 4 buttons, and as the vocabulary increases, so will the sequences. With 84 buttons, you can get over 700 words without having to press more than 2-keys per word. Hence, more keys is more efficient.

Anyways, click below to download the materials.

DOWNLOAD: Unidad English 84

DOWNLOAD: Unidad English 36

Feel free to share these materials with other folks using Unidad. All we ask is that you occasionally mention the Dudes 😉

Articles and Abstracts: Free Stuff from the Dudes

Articles and Abstracts

It’s not unusual for me to get an email from someone asking things like, “Do you have any references that support the idea that using AAC will stop a child from talking?” or “Can you point me to some articles that provide information on Core vocabulary?” As a member of the “Not Dead Yet” club of AAC practitioners [1], over the years I’ve collected a few useful papers that I can refer to, and continue to collect new ones whenever I can force myself to do some journal reading.

So to make life easier, I’ve created a suite of PDF files is a series I call “Articles and Abstracts,” with each file providing a selection of articles along with the abstracts. I can’t provide the actual articles without having to get lots and lots of permissions, and frankly I don’t have the time for that, but given the citations and the abstracts, folks can at least decide if they want to go track them down – and sometimes a starting point is really useful.

I’ve broken the series down into the following topic areas:

There’s no magic formula to explain why I chose this grouping, just that they are areas of research that impinge on the field of AAC and language. And I don’t claim to have anything close to a comprehensive listing of articles, just some key ones that are, in my opinion, useful and relevant. If anyone has any suggestions for additional papers, just let me know – I can’t read every journal that’s out there!

I update on an irregular basis, by which I mean that if a new article that I find interesting comes my way, I’ll update the particular file there and then. So I already some 2017 papers cited – and you can have the excitement of finding out which they are when you download the series 🙂

From our blog home page, select the FREEBIES menu and then down to Article and Abstracts for the list. Or just use the bulleted list above. Feel free to share the information – it’s all publicly available in peer-reviewed journals – but we’d be grateful if you’d mention the Speech Dudes as your source now and again.

[1] In a field where the turnover of practitioners is relatively high, one of the easiest ways to become known is simply to avoid dying. If you can also add “getting around a bit,” then your stock can rise without you having to do much more than that! Of course, if you want to reach the level of AAC Superstar or AAC Luminary, you do, in truth, have to put a little more work into it than I have, and the Superstars and Luminaries deserve their status. All I’m sharing is that even if you don’t aspire to professional sainthood, staying alive is a really, really good idea 😉 And as Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to be immortal through my work; I want to be immortal through not dying.”

We Interrupt Our Scheduled Broadcast With Breaking News…

This just in from our Northeast Ohio correspondent: The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team has become the 2016 NBA World Champions for the first time in the history of the franchise. Perhaps the enormity of this can only really be appreciated if you are geographically, socially, and culturally linked to the city of Cleveland and its surrounding towns and cities within a 100-mile radius. Or if you are a Cleveland “ex-pat” living somewhere else.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 Championship cap

I’ve never really considered myself in any sense a “sports fan” in the same way that an overweight balding guy who paints himself in sickly orange and brown will stand in the snow at the Cleveland Browns stadium singing “Who Let the Dogs Out” while watching a bunch of overpaid amateurs lose on a regular basis, and will do the same thing week after week, year after year, yet continue paying ridiculous prices to be beaten by the same stick over and over and over again. No sir, that’s not me.

Nor do I have a small shrine in a room of my house that’s bedazzled with trophies of my high school sporting achievements from many years ago, interspersed with memorabilia and posters of half-remembered super-humans and demigods who performed some near Odyssean feats of wonder with a ball, a stick, or just their bare hands. No, my friends, that’s not me.

But last night as the buzzer went and the ball continued to fly, I found myself standing up and cheering in my living room. Yes, my own damned living room! Not even a sports bar or a stadium but the room where I usually spend time watching too much TV, too many movies, or writing too many free blog posts. My traditionally British stiff upper lip flopped around like a fish on a deck and there was a visceral and palpable surge of emotion that took over.

I’ve had several experiences over the past 20-something years that have reinforced the notion that at some level I have – as the English might say – “gone native.”[1] Last night was a new one. I was only 7-years-old when England won the soccer World Cup in 1966, and too young and disinterested to grasp what it must have felt like to people at the time [2]. It’s taken 50 years and another country to work it out. For a short time last night, “Ich war ein Clevelander.” For a brief period I felt part of a much larger community on an emotional level that I don’t often feel. Somehow the actions of a group of five guys tossing a ball into a hoop was about me and not them. Rationally, it really IS just five guys tossing a ball into a hoop, and I’m just an inert and passive spectator to the success of someone else. Yet emotionally, it’s very, very different.

Putting our hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in other people isn’t a new thing. In a few days time, they’ll be taking down the famous banner of LeBron James that’s hanging on a building directly opposite the basketball stadium to prepare for the coming of the RNC – the Republican National Convention. In less than a month, triumph will give way to Trump as politicians, pundits, and pressure groups will flood the city for front-row seats to the next gladiatorial spectacle in Cleveland. Simultaneously, around the country, millions of Trump supporters will be putting their hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in a man who makes them feel like I did last night.

Lebron James banner in Cleveland

Yesterday afternoon, I was out with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren on their boat, cruising a local lake and quaffing cold beer in the heat of the Ohio sun. As we snacked on spicy wings and thick cheesy pizza – the perfect companions to ale – Ben told me he was thinking of buying an AR-15 semi-automatic simply because recent calls for banning such weapons is “against his right to bear arms” and “unconstitutional,” and that owning one is his right as an army Vet and American [3].

I have a different view. But after last night’s brief and powerful surge of emotion about something as trivial as a basketball game, I guess I can comprehend what he might feel. He’s simply a reflection of a viewpoint that is special to America – the Gun Culture. And amongst my “going native” moments is the one from maybe ten years or so ago when I decided that I wasn’t against gun ownership and that the way to tackle the issue at a pragmatic level was stricter gun control. Me. The kid from Lancashire. Pro-gun?

Actually, I’m no more “pro-gun” than I am “pro-abortion.” Labels such as “pro-” and “anti-” are often used to falsely polarize arguments into tidy “black-or-white” or “right-or-wrong” dichotomies that simply don’t exist. Anyone who uses phrases such as “you’re either for X or against X” is merely demonstrating that their level of political discourse is so shallow that you couldn’t even float an argument let alone push it. But then again, the folks using such rhetoric are frequently not appealing to any notion of Reason but firmly attached to Emotion.

Which brings me back to the thrilling finale to the 2016 basketball season and my new-found but probably temporary feeling of civic pride. I’m glad the Cavaliers won. I’m happy Cleveland has its first major league sports championship since 1964. I’m excited that Northeast Ohioan’s can celebrate a social singularity for at least a week. I’m thrilled to be wearing my brand new championship hat. And on this first day of what might be a long, hot summer, I’m just a little disheartened that I’ve been reminded how easy it is for rationality to be overcome by emotion. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia – Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable.

[1] The phrase “go native” is first noted in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, where we find the sentence “Kim did not sweep the board with his reminiscences; for St. Xavier’s looks down on boys who ‘go native altogether.'” A remnant of Britain’s colonial days, “going native” was seen as a bad thing and part of a slide to becoming “un-English.” The peril of “going native” was such a problem that British Foreign Office diplomats were rarely allowed to spend more than five years in a post. Its early pejorative sense is less so nowadays and tends simply to refer to the way on which ex-pats take up the habits of their new country of residence without thinking about it.

[2] Oddly what I do remember is that I was into stamp collecting, and when the Royal Mail issued a special commemorative 4d (four pennies) stamp, my mum took me to the Post Office to buy one, which I proudly added to my album. Sadly I have no recollection of what I did with my old stamp albums and no longer have it. So much of our lives disappears as if it had never happened. Sigh!

[3] My son-in-law Ben is a great guy and perfect for my somewhat “spirited” older daughter. She (and we) had a somewhat troubled teenage period but he’s been able to calm her down to the point where she’s not the girl she was – and that’s good. He’s a hard-workin’, family-lovin’, country music singin’ kind o’ redneck who brings me pieces of dead deer and slaughtered ducks when hunting season in on. When we spent many hours putting together a wooden train-set for his son one Christmas, he was the one who went out and bought a growler of beer so “the men” could get the job done. Coincidentally, two years later he got his current job with CSX Transportation, a railroad company that presumably deemed our night of construction as perfect experience for the post! His politics lean ever-so-heavily to the right and the only reason he hasn’t got a Donald Trump sticker on his truck is because he’d have to take his “2nd amendment” gun sticker off. But here’s the thing; at the family level, we all still muddle along despite our differences. In fact, his attitude towards gays has softened since he married my daughter and then realized that he now had a lesbian sister-in-law in the form of my younger child! It’s comforting to know that once he was actually able to spend time with her and realize she had one head, two legs, and didn’t eat babies, his tolerance has improved. Now I admit, he’s unlikely to be taking part in the next Cleveland Gay Pride march nor add a rainbow sticker to the back of his Ford F-150 but it’s a start!

The devil is indeed in the linguistic details: The story of “have”

Be warned! If you’re not interested in language – and I suppose that’s possible – then this article will strike you as something of a “train spotter” post. By that, I mean that like train spotting, it focuses on some incredibly fine details about just one thing, but if you’re not curious about that one thing, you’ll feel like you’re talking to a train spotter, complete with notebook and anorak [1].



Anorak: Inuit

This all came about with a seemingly simple question regarding how to represent simple phrases in an augmentative and alternative communication device [2]. More specifically, it was about phrases using  pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) and the verb to have. And the specific example was about whether the question form of “you have” is “have you?” or “do you have?” It seems a simple enough question but there’s a grammatical demon lurking in the wings, waiting to stab someone with a pitchfork!


Suppose you’re out without a watch or a smart phone and you want to know the time. What would you say to someone?

(a) Excuse me, do you have the time?
(b) Excuse me, have you the time?

Pragmatically, either would work, and one suggestion I heard was that the former is more typical of American English and the latter of British English. Well, intuition is a marvelous thing but a poor substitute for empirical data! This sounded like a job for corpus linguistics – the science of huge language samples.

Using my favorite free online resource, the BYU Corpora site, I checked the incidence of the phrase “do you have the time?” against “have you the time?” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Here’s what I found:

“Do you have the time?”: 10 occurrences
“Have you the time?” : 0 occurrences

So in American English, the “do you have” construction seems to be the clear winner. But then I needed to look at the same phrases using the British National Corpus, and here’s how that looked:

“Do you have the time?”: 1 example
“Have you the time?”: 3 examples

Well, hardly conclusive, but you could probably make a case that the “have you” construction is three times more likely to be used than the “do you have” and so the hypothesis that it’s a US versus UK difference isn’t necessarily wrong. So maybe it would be OK to have the question form “do you have” stored on American English communication aids but “have you” on British English – a sort of “separated by a common language” sort of thing.

So the general rule here would be as follows:

A. Statement form = PRONOUN + <to have>
B. Question form = <to have> + PRONOUN

There’s a beautiful symmetry and simplicity to this. “You have” becomes “have you,” “he has” becomes “has he,” “we have” becomes “have we” and so on.

But wait, wait… there’s more!

Have a cupcakeThe verb to have has two roles it can play in language. The first is demonstrated by the example just given where it is used as a lexical verb synonymously with to own or to possess. The sentences”Do you have a pen I could borrow?” or “Have you a pen I could borrow?” are both OK, and that inserted do is a standard feature of both American and British English. In fact, it’s pretty much obligatory for all lexical verbs [2]. I can say, “You like monkeys” but have to ask “Do you like monkeys?” because “*Like you monkeys” just sounds so wrong.

The second, and more common, use of to have is as an auxiliary or helping verb. That means it is found alongside another verb and “helps” it in some way. For example, I can say “You have finished” where the have “helps” the verb to finish, but if I want to use the question form, I have to say “Have you finished?” Notice that “*Do you have finished?” makes no sense, and when used as an auxiliary, you don’t use the do. So you would find things like “Have you finished your soup?” and not “*Do you have finished your soup?” or “Have you washed the car?” and not “*Do you have washed the car?”

The difference in use between the lexical and auxiliary aspects of to have is why if you are going to store the question form of the [PRONOUN + <to have>] phrase as a single unit, you are better to have [<to have> + PRONOUN] with [<do>] as a separate lexical item. You then don’t have to have TWO question forms that depend on which aspect of the verb you are using [3].

Now you can take you anorak off.

[1] The word anorak is noted in the Oxford English Dictionary as one of the few words to come into English from Inuit. The Inuit language has a number of variations, from which we get other words such as igloo, kayak, and inukshuk (a stack of stones designed to look like a human figure, more familiar to our Canadian readers and Rush fans who have copies of the 1996 album “Test for Echo”).

[2] It’s called “do-insertion” or “do-support” and bizarrely makes absolutely no contribution to the sentence! If you miss it out, it might sound weird but it doesn’t change the meaning of the utterance. German manages to get along quite well without it and “Magst du Affen?” translates as “Like you monkeys?” and in French “Vous aimez les singes” becomes the questions “Aimez-vous les singes?” with ne’er a do or a faire in sight! There are a number of theories out there about why (and when) this funky do appeared but that’s best left for another time.

[3] For those of you familiar with Prentke Romich devices and the Unity® language software, we pre-store phrases using sequences of picture, such as PICTURE A + PICTURE B = “you have” and then PICTURE B + PICTURE A = “have you.” Because we have the same pictures used in two directions, it’s actually easy to teach that if you want to make a statement, use A + B, but if you want the question form, just reverse it for B + A. That regular rule then works all through the system and it automatically handles that tricky little do-insertion for lexical verbs. If you’re not familiar, click on the link below to see a short video: