Sunday, 04 November 2007

The Joy of Things Half-Heard (in Hindi); or, Benny Lava's Loony Buns (If you'd rather skip the context, the hilarious video can be found below the fold.) A significant drawback of being deaf is the concentration required to carry on a conversation. (There are others.) Since I only pick up have a word here and half a word there, I must rely on my preternatural ability to reconstruct whole words from half-heard phonemes. I acquired this skill through long hours, hard work, and the normal course of cognitive development: all I'd ever heard are half-words, so my brain developed to hear half-words. So how would I know that conversing requires more concentrating for me than the hearing world? Simple: When I'm tired, stressed, or otherwise not paying close enough attention, words break down into their constitute phonemes. (Poetry often has the same effect.) These phonemes typically migrate: the first phoneme of one word because the final of another and vice versa. Consider a previous example: One day I went to meet with my advisor. He inquired into the state of my "current tree search." I stared, frozen and mute, wondering how he'd learned of my plans to purchase a potted lemon tree for the porch. "I'm thinking about lemons," I blundered. Now it was his turn to stare, bewildered by my admission that I'd been considering lemons a valid object of literary study. He asked why I'd been thinking about lemons, to which I sensibly replied "because there's not much room on the porch." "For your work?" "What?" "What?" "What are you talking about?" "What are you talking about?" "Planting a lemon tree on the back porch." "Why would I care about that?" "Then why did you ask?" "Then why did I ask what?" "About my current ..." I trailed off exactly when my mouth, prepping to repeat the absurdity, clued my brain in to the nature of the misunderstanding. Sometimes, as with the lemon tree, these migrations fold neatly into the English language. Note how my brain tried to find a suitable context for my mistake: I had been planning on purchasing a tree for the porch, so my brain thrust my advisor's statement into that context. But more often than not, I'm thrust back into language with a shock of incomprehension: "Did you just say—you didn't just say—did you? What?" Most of the time, I don't have a plausible context ready-to-hand, so my confusion results in absurd, context-less statements. I hear words, but they're not arranged into sentences. Or I hear sentences, but the sentences make no sense. I'm hard-pressed to provide examples of what this experience is like ... or was before I learned about Benny Lava's Loony Buns. The video below the fold consists of a Bollywood musical number sung in Hindi but transliterated into English. The author of the subtitles breaks the Hindi down into phonemes then reconstructs those phonemes as English words. The result? The closest approximation to the shock of incomprehension so common among the tired half-deaf:

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