April 20, 2009

Deaf Sentence

I just finished reading David Lodge's most recent novel Deaf Sentence. My enjoyment was enhanced by its relationship to cognitive science, as it touches upon linguistics and language comprehension by the deaf.

Desmond, the main character, suffers from high frequency deafness, and he writes about his increasing difficulty hearing with both accuracy (as he describes loss of hair cells inside the ear and various technology he uses to compensate) and frustration. It was fascinating and somewhat chilling to read about this character's struggle to understand conversation, starting with the loss of consonants. It's often humorous as well, as Desmond describes some language misinterpretations, as well as the continual "what did you say, darling" conversations between him and his wife.

I suspect that the personal description of high frequency deafness would be helpful to new or experienced audiologists, as the character is articulate about the limitations of his hearing in a personal, rather than clinical way. I highly recommend this novel.

Also of interest to some cognitive geeks is the linguistic aspect of the novel. Desmond is a retired linguist, and most of his encounters throughout the novel are tinged with his linguistic touch. He reviews concordances for words like deaf and love; thinks about homophenes (words that look the same when lipreading, such as park, mark, and bark); and, academically, the stylistic analysis of suicide notes.

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