1966: Alonzo J. Morley - Talking about Talking

 1966: Alonzo J. Morley - Talking about Talking

 Though a member of the faculty of Church College of Hawaii for only one year, 1965-1966, Alonzo J. Morley received a signal tribute from his colleagues who chose him as the fourth McKay lecturer. Like many members of the faculty then and later, Morley was well-known in his profession. He helped established speech and hearing as a respected academic discipline at Brigham Young University, founded and served as president of the Western Speech Association, founded and served as president of the Utah Valley Care and Training Center, and wrote a number of professional articles. Received in 1935 from the University of Iowa, his may have been the earliest doctorate in speech pathology awarded by an American university. Before his year at Church College, he had previously taught at BYU, UCLA, and Ohio State University. Morley demonstrated a continuing commitment to both community service and education. Married in 1925, he and his wife Eloise have five children: Stewart, Marilyn, Diane, Janet, and Gerald.


I feel very honored to be asked to fill this position this morning. I would like to talk about something that is very dear to my heart, and that is talking. Perhaps you've seen my title, "Talking About Talking."

Talking or speaking is a miracle. The wise creator didn't provide any special mechanism for speaking. Speech is an overlaid function. It is not one that is connected with something that we do in order to just exist. Speech uses the respiratory mechanism which is designed for taking oxygen into the body and throwing off carbon dioxide. It uses the phonatory mechanism which we have, as do also many other kinds of God's creatures on the earth. It gives us the ability to make sounds. Sounds serve a purpose in warning of impending dangers, in calling the straying young and in making love. Then we have the articulatory mechanism: the tongue, the teeth, the hard and soft palate and so on. Their primary function is the ingestion of foods and liquids into the body.

Whenever we speak we have to very radically modify the normal action of each of these three physiological systems. We have to weld them all together into one whole, a functional mechanism. The fact that we can do this is nothing short of a miracle because we perform no more complex or complicated behavioral action that we do than is speech.

Now how is speech possible? I may have to back up a little bit here because the creator did provide something out of which speech has arisen. This is the provision of about a hundred percent more nerve tissue, largely concentrated in the brain, than is necessary for a vegetative existence on the earth. Out of the activities of this tremendous neurological endowment has come our ability to speak. The ability to speak, perhaps, more than anything else, has determined mankind's advances in the world, and in a very real sense the advancement of each individual who comes into the world. One's ability to get over to others as to how he thinks and how he feels is largely accomplished through this gift of speech.

That gives us a definition: speech is the process of communicating thought and feeling by means of body, voice and words. To some of you who were in my classes and missed this question on the final, this is the answer.

Now I would like to take up the picture of what goes on between the speaker and the listener in the transmission of a message through speech. To do this we will have three areas to consider. These will be the psychological, the physiological and the physical. Now we will make a premise here, that there is no possible transmission of thought and feeling from the speaker to the listener except through some physical media. This some of you may want to debate long and loud, but let's start out with that premise. How did we get the thoughts and feelings that we have in the first place? A baby comes into the world and as far as we can tell he has no thoughts. He doesn't start speaking because at that time he doesn't have anything to say. How does he get something to say? Well, he has been provided with a delicate and comprehensive mechanism, the senses, to make contact with the outside world. That which has to do with light comes in through the eyes, that which has to do with sound comes in through the ears and then we have the tactual sense or feeling. Then the more intimate senses: if can something in our mouth we can taste it or an odor in the nose that we can smell. We use part of the hundred percent more brain tissue that was mentioned above to store up memories of these sensory experiences that we have. So as the child is reared in the family, we hope in a loving home, the sounds, the sights, tastes, smells and the feels of all collect in various and separate areas of the brain related to these senses to be recalled later through the process of memory.

Let us start our tracing of the route through the speech mechanism with the message or thing to be said in the mind of the speaker. The person, who is the speaker, has seen something or heard something and has a transmission to make to the listener. The speaker, then, is our first concern. What part of the speaker is it that does the formulating of a thought? We call upon a very important Mormon principle which says in the beginning each man was an intelligent entity, co-eternal with God (D&C 93: 29). As we came to this sphere we have in us this thing that we call the self, the soul, the spirit, the ego--or whatever you may want to call it. It is this entity, then, that does the thinking and the feeling. This is in the realm of the psychological. It needs the mechanism of the physiological in order for us to be aware of it, but thought and feeling as such we never can find in the physiological. In the speaker, then, the thought and feeling are formulated in this area of the psychological. The energy in the message to be transmitted starts events moving. It starts activity in the physiological aspect of the brain. Let us look at Figure #1.

The brain in its function of recording and storing thousands and thousands, yes millions of experiences is organized to some degree. Different areas perform different functions. It would, however, be a mistake to say that the brain is a mechanical instrument. It is very much a dynamic instrument. But in order to understand in general the work of the brain we can say those items of experience which come through the eye are pretty largely stored at the back of the head in what we call the occipital pole of the brain. The experiences that come through the ear land in the temporal region of the brain. The experiences that come from tactual sensations concentrate back of the fissure of Rolando. In a small area of the brain above the nose is where sensations of smell and taste seem to be stored. The items of thought or feeling in the message that we are considering are gathered from these various areas of the physiological and then coded into patterns of nerve impulses and then sent out by the motor area of the brain over nerve fibers which go to the muscles of various parts of the speech mechanism.

Let's look at the mechanism of the brain shown in Figure #2.

Here we see the unit of the nervous system which is the neuron. The neuron has a nucleus, then it has branches called dendrites which receive impulses from sense organs such as the rod and cones of the eye or from the cells of corti along the basilar membrane of the ear. The axon, the longest fiber, conveys the impulse to the next synapse. Stimulation is the key point. What happens in the functioning of the nucleus of the nerve cell we are not sure, but we do know there is impulse conduction along the axon or the long fiber shown in this case. (In some nerve cells the dendrite is sometimes the longest, as would be the case in the one that goes from the big toe up into the spinal cord where the nucleus of that sensory cell is located.) Then we see in this figure where two nerve cells come together. Here we have a junction or synapse in which an axon will pass the impulse on to the dendrite of the next neuron. Now we would like to take just a moment to talk about what we know about the nature of the nerve impulse. These fibers which carry the nerve impulses are very, very small, microscopic, but still they are insulated from each other so that they may pass independent messages, always in one direction, and always from the dendrite on to the axon. (There are, however, some nerve cells which have the capability of transmission of impulses in either direction.)

In the nerve fiber, when an impulse comes along we know that three things will happen. One of these is that there is an electrical manifestation or impulse that moves along the nerve fiber. The speed of the impulse moving along the fiber is very fast, but not as fast as you might expect. It is about a hundred meters a second in the fastest fibers and that is around 12 hundred feet per second. With a six-foot person this means there could be a lot of transmissions up and down the full length of the person's body if you assumed it was just one fiber that was in action, but there are lots of fibers with synapses between them. In the brain of man there are some sixty billion of these neurons. Sixty billion nerve cells to carry on the work. There is, then, this electrical manifestation or impulse as described. Then we know that there is also a little heating that occurs as an impulse proceeds along the fiber. We also know that there is a chemical reaction. There is an absorption of oxygen and the creation of carbon dioxide and lactic acid. So at least these three things happen in the neuron when an impulse is transmitted by it.

This timing relationship is very important. It takes a certain amount of energy or strength of stimulation before a nerve impulse will move along the fiber. This degree of energy we will call the limen or the threshold of the neuron. Any stimulation below that point or below that threshold will fail to cause an impulse. Once you get to the threshold the fiber then will fire with all that it has. Following the impulse there must be a resting phase for the neuron to rebuild itself. We are talking about a very small amount of time, in fact, thousandths of a second. It takes about one thousandth of a second for a fiber to regenerate and get itself ready for the next impulse but during that thousandth no amount of stimulation will cause this nerve to fire again.

We have been talking about the action of the nerve impulse in a single fiber. In the simplest act of speech many nerve fibers are functioning in very complex patterns. Earlier we said that thought and feeling are not transmitted directly but have to go through a physical media. We will now consider a word here that you may have met, this is the word transduce. In a transduction, energy is changed from one form to another in the process of speaking. Already we have traced one transduction. We began with thought and feeling in the psychological [realm] of the speaker. As the message began to move toward the listener we noted its being changed or transduced into patterns of nerve impulses moving along the nerve fibers. At this point the thought and feeling as such is no longer present but was transduced into these patterns of impulses that we have been talking about that move along many nerve fibers.

Let's now examine Figure #3. Here we see the dendrites of several fibers in proximity to an axon with its end branches. A junction of this nature is a synapse. Scientists have been wrestling with this concept of a synapse for a long time and as far as I can read it is still pretty much a hypothesis. We don't know just exactly what goes on at the end of the axon of one nerve fiber and the activity that causes an impulse to be picked up by dendrites of others. Some think that there is an actual secretion of very highly refined chemical materials at this point. Others think that there is sort of a moving together of axon and dendrites so that the transmission is more direct. At any rate here at this point there is the determination of whether or not there will be a transmission of the impulse of if there may be a stopping of the impulse. It is just as important that some impulses be stopped as it is that some of them be facilitated and passed on. So all of this begins to add up to a very complex pattern of nerve impulses which have frequency and intensity characteristics. The maximum number of impulses a single fiber can transmit is about three hundred in a second's time. There is also the matter of extensity of the impulse or the number of fibers involved and then the location of the destination to which the impulses go.

We have been describing the patterns of impulses that are moving toward the muscular mechanism which is going to do or perform the talking. In Figure #4 we have a blown-up portion of the nerve fiber. We also see how sub-fibers from the end brush of the axon are interlaced into the muscle fibers. We may have as many as twenty or thirty muscle fibers substanced by one nerve fiber. Here a nerve impulse shoots into each muscle fiber which then can do only one thing, that is, contract. Muscles never expand, they relax but they can only actively contract. If I bend my arm up it's the biceps that pull the hand up, but if the biceps were energized forever it could never get the arm down. We have to have the triceps which is the muscle on the opposite side of the arm to pull the hand back to position.

In general, then, our bodies are made up of many similar sets of opposing muscles. When the nerve impulses have discharged into the muscle fibers we have another transduction produced. Our thought and feeling with which the transmission began now exists in patterns of muscle pulls which will effect monitory or sound making activity and articulatory movements will also be produced. This simple activity of a single fiber demonstrates the amount of tremendous complex muscle pulls that occurs in the production of speech. Along with these muscle pulls there is one other physiological reaction. When impulses fire into the endocrine system we may get secretions of the endocrine products which might be that of the lachrymal glands in the production of tears or the drying of the salivary secretions which may account for you having to cough. Another thing that may happen is the constriction of blood vessels which will cause you to feel kind of excited and maybe a little bit afraid. Often with the blood vessels constricted a nice red blush comes up from your collar and your face may become fiery red. Under other circumstances the blood vessels may expand and the blood is drained from your head. If this happens you go pale and you might even faint, just in contemplation of things that you are talking about or the situation which you are in.

Let us now turn to the results of this muscular action. In Figure #5 we have a mid-view of the head which shows the sound making and articulation mechanism. We note the position of the Adam's apple in the throat. This is the location of the larynx in which is located the primary unit for sound production in speech, the vocal cords. In breathing, the vocal cords are separated so the air can move freely back and forth, but when we begin to talk the cords come together and the air pressure of the breath underneath builds up until the cords are forced apart releasing the pressure which in turn allows the cords to come together. Rapid repetition of this closing and opening maintained by muscle activity that brings the vocal cords together creates vibration and a tone is produced. There is constant variation of these muscle settings as speech continues which gives variation in pitch.

In Figure #6 we see further speech mechanism to be activated. Here we see the tongue, the lips, the teeth, the palate, the nasal cavity and the pharynx. All these participate in speech. The patterns of muscle stimulation in these organs are in constant variation.

Most people believe that in speech we use only one sound making mechanism. This isn't true. We have one primary sound mechanism the vocal cords which we have just considered and then seven secondary sound making mechanisms. We make the "p" sound entirely with the lips, we make the "t" sound with the tongue up in back of the teeth. Other units of the secondary sound producing mechanism would be the lower lip and the upper teeth for "f." The tongue slightly between the teeth for the unvoiced "th"; we put the tongue on the gum ridge in back of the teeth for the "t," "s," "z"; the blade of the tongue touches the hard palate for the "ch" and we raise the tongue in the back to the soft palate or the "r." Finally, we just blow air through the separated vocal cords for the "h" sound. So we have a speech orchestra of eight pieces but use only two pieces to participate at any one time. For the unvoiced sounds such as those we just mentioned, only one of the secondary sources will be in action.

For the voiced sounds we will put the buzzer or the vocal cords in vibration, this we combine with the sound produced at each of the positions of the speech mechanism that we have just considered. The thought and feeling that we began with is now carried in these articulatory patterns. It was the pattern of the muscle activity which made these sound patterns possible.

Now here we have a most important transduction for we now consider sound as the media between speaker and listener. We said earlier that there can be no transmission between speaker and listener except through some physical media. Ordinarily, the physical media which we use in speech is the air between the speaker and the listener but other media may be used. Such other media might be a solid wire or radio waves if you talked on the telephone. Or we can use smoke signals as a media. A drum beating in the jungle would be another example of using sound as the media between the speaker and the listener.

These are all in the realm of the physical. Sound waves consist of vibrating air molecules. Then you have part of the message carried by light vibrations so that you can see facial expression and bodily attitudes. These vibrations are carried by the ether while sound waves use air as the media. The end result of all this activity will be that the original thought and feeling is now in the form of definite patterns in the physical media that we have described. We see some of these patterns in Figure #7.

Each of these charts shows the frequency spectra of the overtones that go to make up the vowels indicated at the right of the chart. Middle "c" in the study of physics is at 256 vibrations per second. The middle "c" on a piano is just a little different than this because at an international conference they decided that the "a" above middle "c" would be 440 vibrations rather than 435 and this made middle "c" then up around 261 rather than 256. No matter who is saying a sound as in "pan" the kind of pattern produced would look like that in the upper chart. Along the base line are the various frequencies of the overtones. The height of each of these bars would indicate the amount of force that is in each overtone. When one produces this combination of frequencies shown here it gives the short "a" sound as in tan. This combination in the next lower chart gives a short "i" sound as in tip. In the next lower chart there is an "a" as in tape. The overtones here are fewer and so more simplified. Finally in the lowest chart we have a long "e" sound as in team. No matter who makes these sounds you have to have this pattern of overtones. But in addition to these there will be other overtones which will indicate that this is George, or Pete, or Chris or Jane speaking. So in order to understand each other as we say these sounds we must make correctly and accurately these physical patterns to produce these respective vowel sounds, but in addition to these there are other overtones to tell the listener who it is that is talking.

Another type of picture of these patterns in the physical media which shows something of the same information is in Figure #8. These are from a different machine which is known as a sonograph. We see the pitch in each of these pictures indicated by the highness or lowness of the dark areas above the base line. Each of these dark areas is know as a format. Here again we can see "e" as in "eve" making a definite pattern but in a different type of presentation than that which we saw in Figure #7. Down at the bottom of the chart [Figure #9] we see an interesting thing about the diphthongs. Since in these pictures time is plotted along the base line we get a graphic demonstration of what happens as the voice produces the first sound and then glides to the second which make up each diphthong. (The sound symbols in this figure are written in International Phonetic Alphabet.)

We have been considering here that communication, that is, auditory communication, occurs because we have definite patterns of physical stimulation which can travel from the speaker to the listener. If the speaker happens to have a microphone and a radio transmitter he can send this pattern around the earth 7 1/2 times in one second. At the present time at the north end of Oahu near Sunset Beach the Comsat project is building a satellite station so that we can get direct television here in Hawaii. Because television goes pretty much in the line of sight, we are restricted in how far we can send television signals. When the station at Sunset Beach is completed a little satellite, maybe only six feet or less in diameter, will be sent up twenty-two thousand miles. Equipment at Sunset will beam an electronic oscillation at the satellite. On the Mainland television programs will be brought to a transmission station on the coast on the state of Washington. Electronic waves from this transmission will also be beamed at the satellite high in space. These electronic signals will be reflected by the satellite and come down to the station on Sunset Beach where they will then be rebroadcast to the various television stations and then to our home television instruments. We then won't have to wait a week in getting our Mainland programs. It will be done in seconds.

Now so far we have traced our thought and feeling through several transductions. First they were changed to nerve impulse, then to muscle pulls and now into vibration patterns in the air and likewise vibration patterns in light which you read as bodily and facial expressions.

Now let's look at Figure #10. This is the human ear. The sound vibrations that we have been considering travel in the air in all directions at about 1100 feet per second. A portion of the energy in the sound waves comes into the outer ear and bangs against the tympanic membrane. This membrane has to receive all of the complexities of the various patterns that we have discussed in Figures #8 and #9. The ear receives these and sends them on through the three small bones, the anvil, hammer and stirrup. The stirrup agitates liquids in the inner ear which in turn stimulates the organ of corti in which are 25,000 receptive cells along the basilar membrane of the inner ear. The high frequency sounds are received near the base of the small shell-like cochlea while the lower frequencies come in up here near the tip of the two and a half turns of the cochlea. In this organ of corti the vibrations in the liquid are transduced to nerve impulses in the brain of the listeners. Again we should look at the brain in Figure #1. Impulses from the inner ear are received in the auditory area in the brain which is situated in the temporal lobe. Sometimes we have people with brain damage that [is] located in this part of the brain. They hear very well but they can never understand because of a break in the transmission lines here in the brain. They hear but they never comprehend what is said.

Finally, whether or not the message from the speaker gets over into the mind of the listener depends upon what has been deposited by past experiences in the brain of the listener. He is dependent on these deposits of experiences in the form of minute neurological alterations, in order to recall where he has been and what experiences he has had. He reconstructs out of the deposits of memories of past experiences joining up with the new incoming stimulation patterns [of] thoughts and feelings that in a sense look like, sound like and feel like what started out in the mind of the speaker.

In summary, we have gone over the circuits used in transmission of thought and feeling from the speaker to the listener. We have considered the thought and feeling in the speaker as the product of the ego or self in the realm of the psychological. This has power to begin a series of transductions which terminate in muscle pulls which in turn cause patterns of sound and light to be produced. These patterns now can pass through the physical media to the listener. In the listener these sounds and light patterns are further transduced into nerve impulses in the ear and eye which go to specific areas in the brain. If there have been enough deposits of past experience in these areas to give meaning to the new incoming experience then in the mind and body of the listener is reconstructed thoughts and feelings that are like those which started in the mind and body of the speaker. We have ended with this particular point: through reception of the patterns of stimulation from the speaker is rebuilt in the mind of the listener something that is similar to what started out as thought and feeling in the mind of the speaker. We should never forget about the miracle of the whole process--God's great gift is the provision of this most complex mechanism by which we can communicate with each other.

A final point. Anywhere along the line communication can break down. It can break down because of the lack of experience on the part of the speaker, so that he is very vague about what he has to say and so he delivers a fuzzy message. This may also be caused by damage to the nerve mechanism of the speaker such as occurs in cerebral palsy or polio. Under such conditions of defective neurological paths even though he can formulate a very fine message the nervous system won't transmit it.

Then there can be damage in the bone or muscle structures which makes transmission defective or impossible. Likewise in the physical media we can have some speaker just about to make a very fine point up here on the rostrum where somebody outside explodes a firecracker and away goes the transmission. A very fine message, then, in these ways is distorted in getting from the speaker to the listener.

Now in the listener. His hearing mechanism may be defective in the outer, middle or inner ear, a fact which again will interfere or prevent the message from being transmitted adequately. Finally, and this is the point for all of you in terms of being students in school. You are here to build up in memory a stock of engrams or neurological patterns of experiences that come from what you study in chemistry, what you study in psychology, what you study in English and in your other classes. Your answers during the final examinations will depend on the traces of those experiences left in your brain.

I hope from what we have considered that you have got some vision of the things that I am enthusiastic about. Speech is one of God's greatest gifts to mankind and I pray that we may use this gift and use it wisely; that we may use our wonderful ability in speech to make the world a better place in which to live. I do this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Ed. Note. While figures used by Morley in this lecture have not been located, similar illustrations can be found in basic physiology texts.

Works Cited

The Doctrine and Covenants.

Fletcher, Harvey. Speech and Hearing in Communication. New York: Van Nostrand, 1953.

Potter, Ralph K., George A. Kopp, and Harriet Green Kopp. Visible Speech. New York: Dover Publications, 1966.

Rahskopf, Horace G. Basic Speech Improvement. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.