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Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

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To make it sufficiently expressive upon idiots, we have to strengthen it with uncommon accent and emphasis, acting with words on the tympanum, in the same way as moral coercion acts on the mind. Besides, to teach the distinct perception of the voice, we must emit it from very near, and more than distinctly, contracting sound as well in volume as in pitch. And to teach the meaning of the words as representatives of entities, properties, actions or commands, the accents or emphasis will better mark their intellectual value than all possible commentaries. So that the exaggerated accent and emphasis, far from being a temporary expedient, will accompany all our teaching to its end in slow decreasing progression, except in a single case worth stating instantly.


We drop the accent when we want to command anything for which the child must make a choice of his own judgment. With this particular object in view our speech to him must be of such evenness that not a syllable could influence him to follow our own idea instead of his free will; then the gestures and look must be as neutral as the language; more about this in the moral training.


The mechanical processes of speech are of two orders; one taught in the imitation-room from mimicry for the formation of articulation; the other we have seen borrowed from music for the training of the voice.


At the first lesson appointed for the beginning of articulation, the child is made to resume his morning and evening exercises of imitation without warning, explanation or ado; the movements are mostly concentrated in the hands, the hands brought about the face, the fingers put in and about the mouth. All the parts of the face are moved in correlation with the fingers, and the mimicry is effected with the double object, first: of giving the child an analytical survey by the touch, the sight, and the movement of the various parts involved in the act of speech, from without inwards; second, of making him execute silently after us the movements of the different parts employed in speaking. At this second stage of imitation, the hands have been withdrawn little by little, the teaching and the taught faces have come nearer, taken a better survey of each other, and their execution of mimicry has grown warmer, quicker, more correct. After this, all the organs of speech, the lips, tongue, etc., are moved freely in all directions and in every manner; and once, as if by chance, in the middle of the mute, inimical exercises, the lips being well closed, we part them by thrusting out an emission of voice which pronounces Ma or Pa, it is just indifferent which. If the child's lips be soft, pale with confused delineations, Ma is the word; if the lips be red, firm, well-shaped, we begin with Pa. The same remark will rule the beginning of all the libial, lingual, dental, or guttural syllables; we are governed at first by the structure of the organs, but after choosing the easiest to be pronounced first by the pupils, we soon disregard them, and do not linger in the matters of routine, but advance every instant.


Often things do not go on so easily; particularly in joining the sound of vowels to the articulation of consonants. This difficulty is generally overcome by the musical exercises of the voice. Here music ceases to be a passive pleasure, and becomes the unpleasant, irresistible propulsor of the voice. This change must be made by an insensible transition; happily as we have had time to transform or concentrate gradually the imitatory movements of the whole body into the imitative mimicry of the organs of speech, similarly we had the same opportunity of time and instruments for transforming the passive audition of music into its imitation by the voice. These imitations may be at first clumsy, short, accidental, rare even; let us enforce them more and more at the piano, with our own voice, by private efforts, in private groups, perseveringly exacting voices out of mutism, long sounds out of short ones, series of them after single emissions. The whole is done with the help of the piano or of other instruments supporting well the voice; and afterwards we again take hold of our good lever imitation, moving this time with it altogether voice and articulation, in isolation or in groups, for the emission of syllables simple, double, or compound, once, twice, or more times, with or without music, with or without formal command.


In this completion of the function it is of some importance which syllables are first taught. We present as foremost the two first indicated, Ma, or Pa; they are the proper ones to commence with when the lips, are in normal relations, and only remarkable, as we said, for their softness or firmness. But if, in their construction and relation to each other there are anomalies we would find it more rational to begin by other syllables. For instance when the upper lip is thick, and the lower one thin and short, abutting easier to the upper teeth than to the upper lip, the syllables Va and Fa will be proper. Some anomalies of structure or relation concerning the teeth, tongue, and palate, will offer other inducements to avoid and to select different syllables to begin with. Rarely the tongue moves easier than the lips: but if so, "La" or "Da," will present an advantage for a start. Where the organs are norma the rule is to teach the syllables in the order in which they are emitted from the lips backwards, from the seen to the unseen organs. Otherwise, we must follow the indications of nature's own plan, the exceptional progression of the teaching seeming fixed beforehand by the peculiar build of the parts.

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