I complained about the noise in the office yesterday, didn’t I? Well, apart from the colleague bellowing down the phone over the din, there’s been a deafening silence from my colleagues.

I’ve been working in a parallel universe. After being activated I was away from work for an extended Easter break and had got used to chatting away merrily to family, friends, strangers and was revelling in the sound of human voices. I returned to find everyone astonishingly quiet. Was I not hearing well in my new environment? Was my CI defective in some respect?

The answer, dear reader, is that for years uncounted, and for reasons now lost in the mists of time, my colleagues have universally been speaking to me in whispers or sans voice. This is common among the deaf community : deaf people will mouth without voice to one another, since voices mean little to them, because lipreading and/or sign dominate.

Being as profoundly deaf as I was, I had no idea about the practice of not using voice in the deaf community until I went to university. On hearing my voice, a deaf friend asked me why I was using it when talking to him, but it was just natural and normal to me, but it was a revelation. I continued to use my voice, though, and still do: if anyone challenges me on the subject – my voice is part of who I am.

It’s unusual in the hearing world, though, unless it’s my mum urgently signalling something to me that she doesn’t want someone to overhear. I work in a totally hearing environment though. How and why this practice started, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. No one ever asked me. We do work in an open-plan office, and we are rather cramped together, but it’s a friendly office and we all socialise with one another outside work to a greater or lesser extent.

I guess it didn’t matter to me either way back then (only a month ago), but I simply had no idea. I did have some idea that some people might have been mouthing (it distorts the lips just enough to be visible) but I just thought most people were speaking slightly slower for my benefit, so I had absolutely no idea how widespread it was.

It’s all come tumbling out. I keep asking people to speak up. Everyone keeps saying how they thought it was really strange that everyone spoke to me without voice, but then fell into line because everyone did it. Folks have said that they’ve wondered why I’ve been talking to myself, only to look and realise I haven’t been going mad, I’ve just been responding to someone else who hasn’t been using their voice. The habit’s so ingrained that I keep having to tell them – I can hear them wavering up and down, cos they just can’t sustain talking to me with any degree of loudness, but they’ll turn round and use a normal voice to someone else joining in the conversation.

You’d think that the first thing that people would be keen for me to find out is what they sound like . . .

Advertisements