Tag Archives: pebbles

World’s First AAC Device…Pebbles?

The Greek politician and orator, Demosthenes (/dɪ’mɒsθəˌniz/), lived from 384 to 322 BCE, during which time he was feted as one of the Greece’s most noted speakers. Cicero went to far as to proclaim him “the perfect orator” [1], which is high praise indeed from someone who was also recognized as a master presenter.

Demosthenes: Greek orator

Demosthenes 384-355 BCE

But as a child, Demosthenes had a stammer, which was so noticeable that he was given a nickname by his less-than-sympathetic friends: Batalus. The name derives from the Greek βατταρίζω, which means “to stutter.” Tragically for poor Demosthenes, it was also Greek slang at the time for “anus,” and “effeminate,” so his nickname was something of a double whammy.

Batalus was also the name of a popular flute player from Ephesus who, according to Libanius [3] was the first man ever to appear on stage wearing women’s shoes; an event so shocking and scandalous that the writer Antiphanes made him a character of mockery in one of his comedies.

Undaunted by the abuse, Demosthenes took up a therapy regimen that included what might be considered the first augmentative and alternative communication device in the world: the humble pebble. According to Plutarch;

his inarticulate and stammering pronunciation he overcame and rendered more distinct by speaking with pebbles in his mouth. [2]

It’s interesting to speculate on why stuffing your mouth with pebbles might help overcome a dysfluency, and even more interesting to wonder why there is not some enterprising individual out there selling “Stutter Pebbles” via the Internet, in a variety of colors and sizes to accommodate the different lifestyles and aspirations of potential customers!

Colored pebbles

TheraPebbles™ - not!

How true the story of Demosthenes’ pebbles is depends on how accurate Plutarch was in his investigations, and unless someone out there can channel the spirit of a dead Greek, there’s no way of testing the accuracy of the story. What is of interest is simply the fact that the idea of using some sort of physical technology to assist speech has been around for a long time.

If you know of anyone who has tried – or even better succeeded with – using Pebble Therapy, let us know by commenting below or dropping us an e-mail. And if you know of even older AAC devices, we’d love to hear from you!

[1] Cicero, M.T. (1951) Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 60,137-146.
[2] Margaret E. Molloy, M.E. (1996)  Libanius and the Dancers, Olms-Weidmann, Hildesheim.
[3] Plutarch (1919). The Parallel Lives: The Life of Demosthenes. Vol VII, Loeb Classic Library Edition.