Tag Archives: ASHA

The Dudes Do ASHA 2015: Day 1 – Of Snow…

So it had been snowing in Denver. Not a lot. But snow there was. Just one week ago in Ohio I’d been able to wear a T-shirt and ride my motorcycle in unseasonably warm 70 degree temperatures. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.

The charm of a snow-brushed Denver was somewhat offset by the accompanying bitter chill that my jacket was having a hard time fighting off. The Super Shuttle service, for those who haven’t used it, it located at the extreme edge of the transport area, beyond which appears to be nothing but plains for miles and miles. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to work out that if the wind is blowing in across freezing snow, the wind chill by the bus stand takes on a negative value and unless your willing to snuggle up to lots of folks like chickens in a roost, it’s cold. Another way to tackle the frosty air is to focus you thoughts on something else.

Like snow.

Allegedly, one of the special things about snowflakes is that no two are alike. Every single snowflake is different. In fact, a common metaphor used by the kumbaya brigade [1] is that people are like snowflakes and unique in their own special ways, and all of us are beautiful and special. What the one-world tree huggers fail to include in their metaphorical use is that snowflakes are also cold and short-lived; and while one snowflake might be exquisite, ten billion of the little buggers moving at 50 miles an hour is a blizzard.


Putting my curmudgeonly cynicism aside, what’s more interesting is that I suspect all of us happily accept the “all snowflakes are different” statement as a fact. But based on what? How many snowflakes do you need to look at before you can conclude that no two are alike? Or no three? Surely, you may think, that given the total number of snowflakes that have fallen to the earth since the dawn of time, at least TWO flakes have been the same. Doubtless one of our statistically oriented physics buff readers can supply some mind-bogglingly big numbers regarding snowflakes but math aside, let’s just think a little about what we mean by same and different.

As a Speech-Language Therapist, I’ve been teaching same and different as words and concepts probably from the first time I ever worked face-to-face with a kid. Like most SLPs, I’ve used objects, pictures, symbols, gestures, words, and any number of ways to reinforce what we mean by same and different because it’s a distinction that is critical to how we look at and talk about the world.

In language, “difference” is what marks fundamental distinctions at various levels of a communicative act. For example, at the sound level, whether you use the sound [p] or [pʰ] in a word is not going to make a difference in meaning if you are an English speaker. You might hear a slight variation but folks will not misunderstand you. However, in Hindi, using [p] or [pʰ] can make difference in meaning; [pɑl] means “care for” but [pʰɑl] means “knife.” These types of meaningful differences in speech sounds are what we all “minimal pairs” in Speech and Language Pathology and working with minimal pairs is bread and butter stuff to speechies [2].

The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure made the following statement in his Course in General Linguistics [3];

Concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system.  Their most precise characteristic is in being what they other are not. (p.17)

In other words, it’s differences within a language that are the stuff of speech, not the similarities.

Like all words, same and different are a little grey around the edges; they are not absolutes but “more or less.” Things are only the same so long as we using a pragmatic definition of same that works for us. If I open a can of peas and pour them into a pan to cook, I’d be very likely to say that they are all the same. We even have the expression, “as alike as peas in a pod.” But should I decide that my life is so devoid of meaning that measuring each pea using a micrometer seems like a good idea, I’m going to change my mind as say that the peas are all different. Equally when I say that the great thing about the McDonald’s Big Mac is that it’s the same wherever I buy one, in an absolute sense that’s false because no two Big Macs will ever be “the same” or even taste the same – they will be similar.

Most dictionaries define similar as meaning “resembling but not being identical to.” Logical positivists would probably be happy to argue that the word same should be replaced by the word similar, and hence forth when we’re teaching same and different to kids we should be honest and teach similar and different. Fortunately, most of us work at the level of pragmatic sense rather than absolute scientific truth. The inherent fuzziness of words within a language actually helps us to get on with life rather than banging our heads against a stack of dictionaries trying to find the REAL meaning of a word or the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of a proposition. Sure, they may be some mathematical truths out there, such as 2 + 2 = 4, but in the world of linguistics, imprecision is an inherent feature.

So as I got on the bus for the hotel, I was satisfied to look around and realize that we were all different but in the same profession, and we were all heading for the same conference center but then to different bars for different drinks.

Philosophy can be so comforting at times.

[1] The origin of the word kumbaya is still something of a mystery. In a recent article (The World’s First “Kumbaya” Moment: New Evidence about an Old Song) the author Stephen Winick suggests it originated in the American south as an African Spiritual, with “kumbaya” being a corruption of “come by here.” It’s plausible but there is no solid evidence. The way in which I use it is in a more modern incarnation where it has a pejorative meaning of wishy-washy or naively optimistic. You can even find examples of the phrase “kumbaya moment” in the Corpus of Contemporary American” being used political to deride the actions of the opposition.

[2] For the non-SLPs and non-linguists who follow the Dudes, it can be surprising to learn that the sounds we all use to make words vary across languages and that even a single sound such as a “b” can change depending in where is it being used in a word or phrase. It’s as if a speech sound isn’t a single thing but a cluster of “near enough” sounds. As long as the “b” you say is “near enough” to the “b” I’m used to hearing, then we’re good to go. If you actually record someone speaking a list of words with “b” sounds scattered around them (such as “bottle,” “cabin” “abstract” and “cab”), when you look at the words using speech sound analysis software, you will find that the “b” looks different in each case! The reason that we all think the “b” is always the same is because our brains are actually very good at interpreting “near enough” sounds, which makes life a lot easier.

[3] The original French version, Cours de Linguistique Générale was first published in 1916 after de Saussure’s death, based on the notes he had used for his taught course. It wasn’t until 1959 that an English language version, A Course in General Linguistics was published. It’s generally regarded as a landmark book in linguistics but unlikely to be recommended as an essential read – unless you’re studying the history of Linguistics.

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Question 10 – Tuesday 10th December

A puzzling one today 😉  First, follow this link to a jigsaw and then once you’ve completed it, see if you can guess which famous Speech and Language Therapy pioneer it it. The person was particularly active in the treatment of stuttering.


ANSWER: Charles van Riper!

Charles van Riper

Charles van Riper

Charles van Riper was born in 1905 in Champion Township, Michigan. His family nickname was Cully, which he used later in life as his pen name, Cully Gage, for a series of stories known as The Northwoods Reader about life in Northern Michigan.

His Ph.D. thesis was written in 1934 and titled An experimental investigation of laterality in stutterers and normal speakers, which pretty much set him up for his life-long dedication to helping folks with dysfluency. He founded Western Michigan University’s speech, hearing and language clinic in 1936, which was renamed after him in 1983.

In 1939, his book, Speech Correction: Principles and Methods, was first published, and went on to become a standard in the field of Speech and Language Pathology.

Speech Correction by van Riper

On November 19th at the 1956 Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois, he received the Honors of the Association Award from ASHA.

Van Riper died on September 27th, 1994, at his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


All things Van Riper at Judy Kuster’s web page.

Books by Cully Gage at Amazon.

To Boldly Go Where No SLP Has Trekked Before

The build-up to the annual ASHA Convention still maintains a frisson of excitement. Being old and cynical, I typically divide things into one of two groups; “Things-That-Suck” and “Things-That-Don’t-Suck-Quite-As-Bad-As-They-Could.” I appreciate that this may seem a somewhat negative and jaded view of life, but on the upside it means that the soul-crushing feeling of misery that slams down on you when life inevitably throws you yet another curve ball can be dealt with philosophically with a gallic shrug and muttering “C’ést la vie” before you move on to your next disappointment.[1]

So, odd as it may seem, this downbeat opening is intended to whet your appetite [2] for joining in with the ASHA 2011 Scavenger Hunt during the conference on 17th-19th November. It is, as the blurb tells us, about “going places, doing challenges, and earning points.” And for the Tech Droolers, there’s even the chance of winning an iPad2 – be still your beating heart! Actually, I’d much prefer the Nikon camera or American Express $150 Gift card, which I’d use to buy a new Kindle Fire or put toward a new Cross “Year of the Dragon” red-laquered fountain pen.

Treasure map

Trekking for Treasure

You can follow the hunt using either the SCVNGR app available for iPhone or Android, or you can use SMS by texting 728647 to ASHA – although I just tried this and got the following message:

That keyword is either not valid or is tied to a trek that has not yet been activated. Please double-check your keyword and try again later.

So you can’t actually “sign up” yet via SMS and will have to remember to do it on the day. The problem is that I am the sort of guy who forgets and I rather wanted to sign up NOW because of that! Ah well, I’ll set an alarm…

Being cautious (or anal, depending on your choice of perspective) I took a peek at the terms of the contest, just to make sure I wasn’t signing away my first born – something I would have done happily when she was a teenager but that I can’t legally do now without her husband’s permission. These things are, of course, marketing promotions and not just the milk of human kindness, so I’m OK with the following terms;

By entering the Contest, you are opting in to the Contest and agree to accept additional contact from Contest Entities (only)… Entrants may terminate their participation at any time by sending a text message with the word “QUIT”, to short code 728647, which information will be sent to Recipient in the preliminary opt-in notice.

 So I’m pretty safe from being cyberstalked in perpetuity by, say, the Geico Gecko who, cute as he may be, would get very annoying if he tweeted me on a daily basis to buy insurance. For the record, Geico folks, I already HAVE insurance from you and I’m quite happy.

Geico gecko

Somebody's watching me!

 What really caught my eye was the use of the word treker and trekers to describe those of us who will be taking part. Why? Because it should be trekker and trekkers with a double “k.” The only reason for using treker or trekers would be if Geico, ASHA, or SCVNGR (the companies running the game) were to use a trademark after the word in order to claim it as a special mark for “people who use the SCVNGR software.”

The word trekker is derived from the Dutch word trek meaning “to travel by ox wagon, and was first used in this sense by Dutch settlers in South Africa back in the early 19th century. Prior to that, trek meant to draw, pull, or march. By the middle of the 19th century, it was common to refer to someone who made a trek as a trekker – not a *treker.

Boer Trek

Boer Trek - no Kirk

In another example of how morphology can provide us with new words, a small group of trekkers could be referred to as a trekkie, with the final /ɪ / sound acting as a diminutive. Of course, nowadays, the word trekkie refers to something totally different – a devotee of the Star Trek series.


Trekkies - double "k"

It’s interesting to note [3] that the derivation of trekkie in this modern sense is, in fact, different from that of the original. The sci-fi trekkie comes from the compound noun Star Trek and the morphological /ɪ / marker is not a diminutive but used in the sense of “one who is a fan of” – much like we describe someone who likes food as a foodie.

I checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English just in case I was hideously wrong (it happens – sometimes) but there are only two examples of treker in evidence, and both are trademarks for a utility vehicle. On the other hand, the word trekker scores a respectable 67 instances (not bad for a low-frequency noun) of which some examples are for another vehicle but also for travelers and Star Trek fans. [3]

Hopefully the next post will include details of the fabulous prize I’ve won after successfully completing the Scavenger Hunt. It’s every dude for himself on this one, so I don’t have to share with the other guys if I win (“OK, I get the iPad but you have visiting rights every other weekend, and I want app support payments.”) I suppose I should end by recommended you go to the Scavenger Hunt site and sign up – but seeing as that would reduce my odds of winning, I suggest you give it a miss!

[1] I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but the existentialist Albert Camus once said, “there is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.” I’m paraphrasing a little here but the rationale for this is that if, as an existentialist, you believe that life has no meaning, no purpose, and is prone to being messed up by chaos and random events, then there is no difference between being dead or alive. If nothing matters, it makes sense to throw yourself under a bus, shoot yourself through the head, or choose one of an infinite number of ways to end it all. But – and here’s the good news – if you can come terms with the sheer futility of it all AND create some reason to live, no matter how trivial that might be, then you can actually get on with life in the knowledge that however bad things are, it’s better than being dead!

[2] No, it isn’t “wet your appetite.” The word whet means “sharpen” or “put an edge on,” whereas the word wet means “to make moist with a liquid.” The former comes from Old English hwettan and the latter from Old English wǽten – totally different 🙂 I suppose there’s the temptation to believe that it could be “wet your appetite” based on the notion that drooling makes your mouth wet, but that’s an after-the-fact rationale; an etymythology.

[3] I know, you’re curious… Trekkie scores 32 examples and all of them are for Star Trek fans, which means that the original meaning has to all intents and purposes been tossed into the historical junk pile. Nothing stays the same; not even words. C’ést la vie.

2011 ASHA Convention: The Unofficial Promo

The Dudes – well, some of us – will be off to San Diego in November to attend the 2011 ASHA Convention. Of all the venues for ASHA, this is in the top 3, along with San Francisco and Miami. Anyone who says that the location isn’t important clearly doesn’t understand one of the reasons for going to conferences: the junket.

For those unfamiliar with the word junket, it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as;

A feast or banquet; a merrymaking accompanied with feasting; also in mod. use (chiefly U.S.), a pleasure expedition or outing at which eating and drinking are prominent; a picnic-party. Also transf. and fig.

The “figurative” meaning is the important one here, and it first appeared in print in a 1886 article for the Detroit Free Press;

 The term ‘junket’ in America is generally applied to a trip taken by an American official at the expense of the government.

For those folks paying out of their own pockets, it’s a conference; for those getting funded from employers, it’s a junket 😉

The Speech Dudes’ cartoon spokespeople, Kate and Kimmy, talk about planning for the conference in the latest YouTube video release.


If you’re going to the conference, check back here for our recommendations to hotels and restaurants. Some of us have, in fact, been to San Diego on a number of occassions and we’re happy to share our ideas.