Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Cleft palate: Sanskrit helps speech therapists
March 17, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Sanskrit, the mother of most Indian languages, is unique in the sense that the arrangement of alphabets is orderly and scientific. No other language has sounds (phonemes) that are quite simple and easy to remember.
People suffering from cleft palate or cleft lip find it hard to produce sounds.
The evaluation of their speech is very difficult if such individuals speak any language other than Sanskrit.
Senior scientist Gajiwala Kalpesh has carried out a research on Sanskrit phonemes and how they help cleft palate surgeons to evaluate the speech of people with cleft palate deformity. In people suffering from cleft palate, the palate or the roof of the mouth is not joined together. It has a gap in between making it hard for such people to utter sounds.
Kalpesh has demonstrated through his study the inherent advantage of the arrangement of Sanskrit alphabets to effectively analyse defective cleft palate peech. "Sanskrit provides a tool for surgeons to decide a course of action in their routine clinical practice. Improved insight into the speech defect by the surgeon also facilitates better coordination with the speech language pathologist in assessment and treatment of a child with cleft palate," he points out.
In most languages, phonemes are learnt through the arrangement of alphabets. In English, for example, written symbols A to Z represent most, if not all, phonemes. Some of the phonemes require a combination of these alphabetical symbols like 'ch' as in church, 'th' as in thought. The problem is all these alphabets are not pure phonemes, but a combination of a consonant and a vowel.
He says the arrangement in other languages is haphazard, with vowels and consonants intermingling at irregular intervals. And there is no reason for a particular arrangement of alphabets. They are as if picked at random and strung together. Therefore, one must make a special effort to memorise each and every sound individually vis-à-vis its character regarding voicing, place and manner of articulation.
Kalpesh says after cleft palate surgery, a plastic surgeon usually leaves the development of normal speech to a speech language pathologist, who is expected to work wonders in post-surgical therapy. Quite often the surgeon does not realise the implications of speech evaluation, which states the presence of misarticulations, with or without hypernasality.
"Sanskrit is a valuable tool for evaluating cleft palate speech. Not only are the vowels and consonants separated, but also Sanskrit consonants are pure phonemes and are arranged in vertical and horizontal groups according to the voicing state, manner of articulation, place of articulation and the intraoral pressure required to produce them. Understanding the arrangement of alphabets in relation to all these therefore takes away the major burden of memorising them at random. The arrangement of Sanskrit alphabets is called Varnamaalaa or the garland of phonemes. It may be
called the oldest phonetic classification known to humanity."
According to Kalpesh, the time required to utter sounds increases as one goes downwards on the Sanskrit chart. This means that one is required to sustain some intraoral pressure and airflow for a longer duration in forming sibilants.
So, when there is velopharyngeal incompetence, it will be more difficult to sustain the airflow and air pressure for a longer duration in sibilants.
"Varnamaalaa helps us find our way through the maze. The Sanskrit chart can provide a simple tool for added clinical evaluation and may help decide the course of action for both the surgeons and linguists together. Surgery alone cannot improve speech, but speech can improve with speech therapy," he argues.
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