LAFON 57A THE PRIMARY HEARING (road to language) part 17

Animals have no language. A parrot saying “hello” has no notion of what “hello” means. It repeats the word in echo, in echolalia: it simply repeats it without understanding what it means. Just like a dog obeying the voice and demands of his master.

Human beings, on the contrary, are capable of conceptualising what they feel and what they want to say. They have developed an abstract thinking that animals have not. This abstraction capacity, over a lifetime, allows to build-up an increasingly elaborated language, step by step, like a puzzle.

« There can be no language without hearing » (1). We saw earlier that speech is the expression mode of the language. Speech requires a layout. « We speak as we think » (2). Speaking implies a planned position of the mandible, pharynx, soft palate, mouth and lips in order to produce the intended speech. This, as a result, must be organised over time. Just like when we have a drink: we need to plan every movement to be accomplished and these have to be coordinated. It is thus mandatory to have a precise notion of time, and this relies on hearing.


The tune embodies the pace of the laryngeal impulses. And this pace involves: structure + periodicity + movement. Movement is organised over time. Speech is a movement, it is organised over time. Speech can be seen (lip reading) and heard. Every change brought to speech through the movements of the soft palate must be heard, as these are almost impossible to imagine and imitate if they cannot be heard. For deaf patients, providing hearing devices at the earliest possible stage is thus of major importance.


Speech intelligibility relies mainly on tune and timbre. The perception level of tune – that remains in a relatively low frequency range – will always be based on the level of deafness. Timbre (F2 formant frequency, located within the 1,000 – 4,000 Hz range) will be undetectable in patients with severe hearing loss. Providing these patients with hearing devices at the earliest possible stage is thus of major importance.


(1) Prof. J.C. LAFON « audition et langage en 1968 » (“hearing and language in 1968”) Bulletin d’Audiophonologie N°1, 1995, Volume XI, page 8.

(2) Prof. J.C. LAFON « Entendre » (“Hearing”), TV show by Igor Barrere, FR3 French TV Channel, 25 October 1985, between 33”45 and 35”56. Available on INA’s (French National Boadcasting Institute) website:

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