Can Mutes Sing?

Yes! Survivors if strokes that lost the ability to speak have suddenly produced words when singing familiar songs. This phenomenon in not a new discovery; it was first reported by a Swedish physician in 1736 when he described a young man who had lost his ability to talk as a result of brain damage; but who could sing hymns in his church.

Today it’s called “aphasia” or “acquired language disorder”. It became a subject of clinical study in the mid-1880s. Since that time, researchers who worked with people with aphasia has seen individuals who can produce words only when singing!

It appears to be a psychological benefit. Singing alone doesn’t improve the ability to create normal speech in people with aphasia; probably because the “lyrics” in a song are automatically connected with the melody: it’s the melody that triggers the lyrics!

The spoken word is a different matter. We have to work hard to memorize the “Pledge of Allegiance” or remember the lyrics to a song. But those with aphasia, if they know the song  they automatically know the lyrics.  And the songs themselves can be used to communicate.

One aphasia patient was struggle to tell his son he wanted to go to a Boston Red Sox game, but could not communicate, so he begin singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” 

Unfortunately, there aren’t that many songs that can be used for normal communication. This was the motivation for a treatment approach known as “Melodic Intonation Therapy,” which began in 1972, and it does help for some people. But more research is needed.

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