Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Musings: What's in a Mumble?

I was walking down the street yesterday and a man, Mexican I believe because he was holding a copy of "La Prensa" a Mexican newspaper, was distractedly mumbling to himself. The scene caused me to wonder: "When a person is mumbling to himself in a foreign language, what must it sound like?"

Or, when a person is mumbling under her breath, is she mumbling in grammatically correct, well punctuated phrases and sentences? Is the mumble, if it were able to be amplified, actually using words or just noises representing ideas that exist only in the mind?

One of Gregory's resident mates at The Lieberman Center was very verbal. She was mobil so constantly would be on the move and chatting with herself. She mumbled on and on in what appeared to be her native language of Arabic. She used to live in Iraq.

When I would see her passing in the hall, I would always smile and say "Hello." She would stop, hold my hands, and have a brief conversation with me. I would smile if she was smiling and frown if she was frowning and that seemed to be enough for her in our conversational sharing, I did not need to comment in return, besides the point that I do not speak Arabic!

One day I mentioned all of this to Miriam's sister who was visiting. I told her, "I wish I spoke Arabic so I could understand what she is saying." The sister replied, "Miriam is mumbling, not saying anything coherent. There is nothing to understand." I wonder, was she mumbling in Assyrian?

A humorous aside, at least funny to me, is how amazing it is that a cell phone knows how to speak and understand ANY language that exists in the world. If you are on your cell phone, taking to someone in Spanish, the person on the other side will hear your Spanish and be able to reply in Spanish, if of course they speak and understand Spanish. But none the less, the cell phone knows how to send these various sounds effectively across many miles. Same for Polish, Bulgarian, Japanese, Arabic, etc

Ah the marvels of technology. But on the serious side of technology, you can go to, type in any sentence, and the technology will translate for you. The results may not be perfectly, grammatically, idiomatically correct but the chances are pretty good that if used with a person who speaks the translated language, that person will get the idea of what you are trying to say!

So what would mumbling sound like in various languages, I wonder.

Ah las maravillas de la tecnología. Pero en el lado serio usted puede ir a, escribir cualquier frase, y la tecnología va a traducir para usted. Los resultados pueden no ser perfectamente, gramaticalmente, idiomáticamente correcto pero las posibilidades son bastante buenas que si se utiliza con una persona que hable el idioma traducido, esa persona va a tener una idea de lo que estás tratando de decir!

Ah die Wunderwerke der Technik. Aber auf der schweren Neben können Sie zu gehen, geben Sie in jedem Satz, und die Technologie wird für Sie zu übersetzen. Die Ergebnisse möglicherweise nicht perfekt, grammatisch, idiomatisch korrekt sein, aber die Chancen stehen ziemlich gut, dass, wenn eine Person, die die übersetzte Sprache spricht verwendet wird, wird diese Person die Idee, was Sie zu sagen versuchen zu bekommen!

技術の驚異ああ。しかし、重篤な副作用には、 に行くの任意の文章を入力し、技術があなたのために翻訳しますすることができます。結果は完全に、文法的に、慣用的に正確でないかもしれないが、チャンスは翻訳された言語を話す人と一緒に使用すれば、その人はあなたが言うしようとしているかのアイデアを取得することはかなり良いです!



  1. Love it Michael, thanks for sharing it. <3

  2. Sometimes on Facebook, someone posts a short video of a very small child jabbering, a prelude to actual speech. As coherent speech leaves us, I guess we retain vestiges of language that cannot be strung into a sentence but the urge to utter has not yet left us.

    I remember a man who had a stroke. The only word he had was TRY. He would attempt to communicate with that one word. "Try... try. TRY.... TRY!" He could not make himself understood by inflection alone. I don't know what his outcome was, he transferred elsewhere.

    1. I looked into this phenomenon with a neurologist who visited with Gregory several times. I really wanted to "know what is going on" behind the scenes to be better able to understand Gregory and how to work with him. You may not have found this post yet so here is the link:


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