I discovered this week that I do not process prosody of speech with the spoken word. My mother’s attacks on me from birth provided me with continual exposure to her extremely emotional screaming tirades at me from birth, of course long before I knew what an actual word was. Her contorted facial features were also imprinted into my brain.
I am too tired right now to develop my thoughts about this, but wanted to make a note here about it. I imagine listening to people is so difficult because my social brain was so traumatized I am always listening first of all to the emotional message being conveyed in the prosody of someone’s speech. I am always trying to determine instantaneously and automatically whether or not I am threatened. Of course, any contact with a person not one of my immediate attachment figures presents a threat to me. I do not have a normal social brain, and this problem with language is part of it.
It makes it very difficult for me to understand how a person is feeling and what they are saying at the same time. These two sources of information are not meshed as they were supposed to be. It is like seeing yellow with one eye and blue with the other, and every timeyou need to see green you have to process blue differently than does everybody else. They just see blue. I have to see both colors and attempt to put them together.
It is like watching a movie where the sound track is a fraction of a second off from the lips of the people speaking on the screen. It is like trying to understand a native speaker talking in a language you are trying to learn. In you effort to distinguish words you will not be able to pay equal attention to the emotional prosody of the speaker along with the words.
My suspicion is that this has something to do, also, with damage to my corpus callosum so that information from the right and left brains are not being communicated to each hemisphere correctly, either. Prosody is like music to me. Words are left brain, melody is right brain. I am in effect hearing “double.” I have a split auditory image when I listen to strangers talk. It also means that I do not get the meaning of their words the way I am supposed to. This probably has something to do with my difficulties in learning – like learning the tasks at the window factory. I was socially stressed on many levels, so that hearing and remembering the spoken instructions was very difficult.
Every time someone says something to us we are learning something new. We have to remember what they are saying – to us.
I really believe that this new awareness can assist me in interpreting for myself some of the discomfort I feel in social situations. If polite conversation is social grooming, I am impeded in participating in this area of significance – even if nothing else was wrong.
This also explains why many times when Ernie says something to me I don’t hear what he is saying – even if I am a little tiny bit worried I am going to get it wrong or make a mistake. I am listening firstly for the emotion in the prosody of his speech. I cannot do that at the same time I am listening to his words – and the emotions are ALWAYS most important to me. That is automatic – and might also have something to do with the amygdala super highway that bypasses my cortex when I perceive threat and danger.
I also think that the first “true” language I learned I learned in interaction with John, so this was my mother tongue – a sort of twin speak. That means that English is my second language. This is also no doubt extremely significant. It might mean that I learned WORDS in my right rather than my left brain – as an adult would who is learning a foreign language.
Maybe on some level this is what struck me about the movie, Nell.
This means that I listen to the melody of a voice, to its prosody and am looking for the emotional message first and foremost. Words are entirely extraneous and secondary to me.