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Nov 7, 2011

A reply from Dean Frenkel

Dean Frenkel writes: Aidan Wilson has launched an appalling personal attack on me in Crikey. His lamentable burst of anger was mostly based on an interview Phillip Adams conducted with me on Radio National. It has necessitated a response that regrettably is somewhat personal in return.



[The following is an un-edited response from Dean Frenkel to Aidan Wilson’s Beware of speech experts bearing science. I pledge in blood that Fully (sic) will be moving on to other topics soon! –Ed.] 

Dean Frenkel writes: 

Aidan Wilson has launched an appalling personal attack on me in Crikey. His lamentable burst of anger was mostly based on an interview Phillip Adams conducted with me on Radio National. It has necessitated a response that regrettably is somewhat personal in return.

I am an author, singing instructor, singer and speech-coach with 18 years of professional experience with voice. I have spent the last two and a half years writing a book ‘Evolution of Speech’ about my insights into the world of speech. For this I have applied unconventional perspectives to the subject (which obviously unsettle Wilson). At no time have I claimed to be a linguist or speech pathologist. Wilson’s claims of fraudulent misrepresentation are baseless, disgraceful, irresponsible and inaccurate.

The heart of Aidan Wilson’s complaints centre on the media coverage I have been getting and his motives require examining. Despite his apparent linguistic training he is a chronic under-achiever with a nasty chip on his shoulder and some old fashioned jealousy. He is an amateur who achieves modest heights only by digging low, scraping the gutter and criticising the work of others without producing work of his own. What books has he written? Has he been published beyond Crikey?

Wilson’s under-achievement and narrow-minded arrogance are behind his bizarre hysterical attack on me. His writing style and language ability may be fair yet lacks other essential qualities. His judgment is poor throughout his article, starting with the target he has chosen. He exhibits telltale signs of desperation – he is pedantic and tries to transform very trivial and under-whelming points by magnifying them as if they were major points. Oh shock, horror!

He refers to a phonetician (unnamed and obviously a friend) who had ‘conniptions of disbelief’ – here the desperate Aidan Wilson turns to dishonesty and misrepresentation. The only expressions of discontent to my LNL interview have come from Aidan Wilson’s circle. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that whistling as a child helps to train the articulation of ‘W’s for later in life. How does he think the fine muscles of the lips are trained? In my book I have suggested that whistling was a precursor to the development of speech in humans. To Mr Wilson this is a hanging offence.

Aidan Wilson lacks any sense of proportionality. He goes into full throttle about my suggestion that neanderthals probably didn’t sing because it wasn’t macho – this was my light attempt at humor. But Aidan Wilson takes humour seriously and goes for the jugular. His perspective is as deficient as an Indonesian judge – don’t ride a boogy board anywhere near him – he’ll accuse you of drug smuggling. He’s that blinkered.

Aidan Wilson is an example of a very important issue in my book. How some linguists and speech pathologists try to hijack ‘speech’ as their own and attempt to attack and exclude anyone else from contributing. Suffice to say that speech has benefited from both schools, but neither covers the subject comprehensively nor comes close to doing justice to it. Speech pathology is still in its infancy and handles clinical aspects of its science better than its art. It has only been accredited for barely half a century. Linguists, like chiropractors can be manipulative and fiercely protective about the ground they perceive as theirs. Have you ever witnessed an argument between linguists about phonemes? It is very hard to get them to agree on anything except for the questionable belief that it is language that separates humans from other animals. Indeed linguistics does not cover speech anywhere near as well as it should, routinely under-playing the importance that speech has played to language and its origins. Indeed many highly qualified linguists can say the word phonemes but have no knowledge of the mechanisms of speech.

Yet speech has been crucial to language development. Every single traditional language began and developed on the back of speech. If not for speech, language would almost certainly have never developed. Speech and language has been around for at least 100,000 years – writing for only for 5,500 years.  Speech was the sole vehicle for language for around 95,000 years.

Wilson obviously cannot fathom that speech is a vocal skill and a vocal art that can be perceived as another form of singing. Many of the same skills required for singing also apply to speech – expression, communication, controlled breathing, resonant projection, articulation, rhythm and melody, timing, listening… the same biological mechanisms required for speech also apply to singing – the brain, lungs, thoracic and abdominal muscles, jaw control, voice box, tongue, lips and ears. It is legitimate to perceive speech as a dour but remarkable form of singing.

As a voice coach and performing vocal artist my unconventional perspective of speech emerged from my experience working with the vocal mechanisms of students and observing the development of their vocal skills. My later work revealed to me that it is possible to identify the speech skills and work out how many of them could have developed in early humans.

For my book I have approached the subject of speech as an artist rather than a scientist. Theatrically trained speech coach, Lionel Logue developed his special expertise from the arts and also came across the likes of Aidan Wilson in his travels.

Where Wilson rejects my credentials, many major media outlets accepted that voice teachers and vocal artists can be expert at speech in ways that speech pathologists and linguists aren’t. The Age, The West Australian, Tasmanian Mercury, Sydney Morning Herald, Queensland Courier, Adelaide Advertiser and Crikey all published my articles for the op-ed pages or reported my speech analysis of politicians. ABC Radio National,  Melbourne 774, Qld 4BC, Tas ABC, WA ABC, SA ABC, Canberra ABC, Ballarat ABC have all been happy to host interviews on the subject.

So pedantic and desperate is Wilson that he even attacks the book for being ‘self-published. I have written books with other publishers, including Hill of Content (The Essential Meditation Guide), ABC merchandise (A Poet’s History of Australia), and I have released albums through my record company Move Records and contributed to albums with other companies including ABC Records. For reasons relating to the sad state of the book industry, I wanted my small publishing company to handle this book. My small progressive publishing unit has been operating since 1993 publishing books, stamps, greeting cards, posters and music. It has published projects including tram art/poetry projects (‘Moving Words‘ and ‘Art on the Met’), which features the works of Albert Tucker, Lin Onus, Bill Neidgie, Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonucal…

Aidan Wilson’s hysterical attack on me is personal and anti-intellectual – his heavy-handed behaviour attempts to impose a unilateral perspective of the subject and to silence lateral perspectives. He would restrict discussion on this subject just to linguists. It is a pity that his personal issues and inferiority complexes are allowed to intrude into this domain.



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8 thoughts on “A reply from Dean Frenkel

  1. Aidan Wilson

    Dean, I will overlook the more personal remarks in your post.

    Looking back at my original post, the tone is perhaps quite rude, for which I apologise. However I stand by the facts as I’ve stated them. You’ve proposed scientific theories (and have stated them as factual) and I’m pointing out that they’re not facts; they are at best controversial, and poorly referenced if they are referenced at all.

    To take a single example from your book (page 18, Chapter 2: ‘Pre-origins of speech’, section ‘The first trigger’) where you discuss bipedalism:

    Some evolutionary biologists have suggested that the upright posture eventually led to gravitational pull on the voice box, dropping it further down the neck and giving room for all the vocal mechanisms to develop.

    Can you provide references to the evolutionary biologists that have made this suggestion? This is what I mean by evidence. Your book is almost entirely lacking in it (there are 19 footnotes in total, some to newspaper articles, some to wikipedia pages, and some, I’ll concede, to scholarly books and articles, although without a bibliography or any annotations, it’s difficult to follow or consider the veracity of the claims) and as such, it cannot be classed as a scientific text. In its subject matter however, it certainly purports to be one. This is my main concern.

    I take no issue with your career as a voice coach, in fact I wish you all the best; it’s a worthy occupation and in my post I said explicitly that you may well be an excellent voice coach – but it’s irrelevant to my concerns with your book.

  2. Amos Teo

    Chronic overachieving linguists know better than to engage with idiocy like this.

    Sadly, I couldn’t resist and had to write something on my own blog and get an equally idiotic response from the man.

  3. wamut

    Oh and @Catsidhe, he wasn’t *interviewed* by those newspapers, they just republished a press release is all.

    Unlike chronic underachieving linguists like me who have only been interviewed (and, like, *actually* interviewed) by obscure media outlets like The Guardian Weekly, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC Radio (Darwin). And I didn’t even have to tart myself up with a self-published book or press release. Those poor confused journalists who interviewed me, not realising that realising that “voice teachers and vocal artists can be expert at speech in ways that” I can’t…

  4. wamut

    A crazy person says what?

    I’m gobsmacked by the ridiculousness of the above. #backsawaymakingcalminghandgesturesforfearofsendingcrazypersonintoconniptions

  5. Catsidhe

    TL;DR: I have a theory of linguistics, based on years of teaching people to sing. Mere evidence would simply sully it. I’ve been interviewed by newspapers about completely irrelevant stuff, therefore I’m an expert; and your silly years of education and childish need for argument more detailed than “you can’t prove that it isn’t” prove that you are beneath me.

  6. Angra

    “His perspective is as deficient as an Indonesian judge”

    That about sums it all up.

    Speech (production of vocal sounds) as the foundation of language? WTF?

    This is so important that he stakes his reputation on it.

    What about Ideas? Concepts? Imagination? Grammar? Syntax?

    What about sign language?

    Sounds like woo-woo, walks like woo-woo, looks like woo-woo.

    Its woo-woo.

  7. Phil

    Why the hell are you giving this idiot another platform. Did you even read this shit before you published it, it’s almost a roll call of every quack deflection technique.

    Aidan was right, and while it’s pretty obvious that the focus in the credentials is an attempt to distract the reader from substantive criticism of specific claims, in this case, since frenkel sell’s himself as an expert, attacking his credentials is perfectly valid.


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