Saturday, December 06, 2008

The cochlear implant

When you get involved in any way with deaf people, sign languages or in my case SignWriting, at some stage you will come across people arguing that a cochlear implant will make many of the issues go away. In Wikipedia parlance, this is not a neutral point of view.
I want to get my own point of view on this subject and I asked a mailing list for "linguists interested in signed languages" if there are sound files that simulate what such a gadget sounds like. What I want to know is what spoken texts sounds like in a quiet background, in a noisy background and, what music sounds like.

The response that I got was great, I found a website with soundfiles and a website with a program that allows me to make my own soundfiles. The problem that I face is that I do not know how to appreciate the results. The soundfiles demonstrate the difference between different channels. These differences are huge, and it is indicated that native speakers can understand them with fewer channels. My observation is that there are no native speaking natural deaf people. I expect that natural deaf people have to learn to recognise sounds and have to learn to recognise spoken speach.

I have downloaded the program and experimented with it, and found that the paramaters are not in a way that I understand. It is not like selecting the number of channels and therby being comparable with the existing soundfiles. The program needs understanding of how a cochlear implant works and I do not.

Learning about cochlear implants, my current understanding is still very much that they are crutches. The results are hardly comparable with natural hearing. Also not all the implants are equal so it is hard to speak about "the cochlear implant" and generalise. I also learned that the cochlear implant is not for everybody, it is only for people with problems with their cochlea.

I still do not know enough about what I want to learn. I want to know how voice sounds in a noisy environment. I am not able to use the software, so I would LOVE to have soundfiles to illustrate the Wikipedia articles. This would make the arguments for one or the other POV less emotional and more factual.

1 comment:

Matthew Jude Brown said...

Interesting stuff. I suspect the cochlear implant works best for those who were formerly hearing and lost their hearing after being used to having it. They have the knowledge of what things should sound like and what they're trying to understand, and will probably have more trouble learning to function without any hearing.

A friend of mine abruptly lost his hearing after a severe meningitis infection in his 40s. He now has an implant for one ear, and it has made a huge difference for him, but the quality of their hearing is not good in any kind of noisy environment.

It would be very useful to get sound files that truly approximate what is experienced by a user of such implants; it would help understanding. I hope you manage to get better results.