Deaf Sentence


Conscious that this novel, from its English title onwards, presents special problems for translators, I dedicate it to all those who, over many years, have applied their skills to the translation of my work into various languages, and especially to some who have become personal friends: Marc Amfreville, Mary Gislon and Rosetta Palazzi, Maurice and Yvonne Couturier, Armand Eloi and Beatrice Hammer, Luo Yirong, Suzanne Mayoux, Renate Orth-Guttmann, and Susumu Takagi.


Sentence noun. Middle English [Old French from Latin sententia mental feeling, opinion, philosophical judgement, from sentire feel] 1. Way of thinking, opinion, mind . . . 2b. The declaration in a criminal court of the punishment imposed on a person pleading guilty or found guilty . . . 5. A pithy or memorable saying, a maxim, an aphorism . . . 7 . . . A piece of writing or speech between two full stops or equivalent pauses.

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary


THE tall, bespectacled, grey-haired man standing at the edge of the throng in the main room of the gallery, stooping very close to the young woman in the red silk blouse, his head lowered and angled away from her face, nodding sagely and emitting a phatic murmur from time to time, is not as you might think an off-duty priest whom she has persuaded to hear her confession in the midst of the party, or a psychiatrist conned into giving her a free consultation; nor has he adopted this posture the better to look down the front of her blouse, though this is an accidental bonus of his situation, the only one in fact. The reason for his stance is that the room is full of noise, a conversational hubbub which bounces off the hard surfaces of the ceiling, walls and floor, and swirls around the heads of the guests, causing them to shout even louder to make themselves heard.This is known to linguists as the Lombard Reflex, named after Etienne Lombard, who established early in the twentieth century that speakers increase their vocal effort in the presence of noise in the environment in order to resist degradation of the intelligibility of their messages. When many speakers display this reflex simultaneously they become, of course, their own environmental noise source, adding incrementally to its intensity. For the man now almost nuzzling the bosom of the woman in the red blouse, as he brings his right ear closer to her mouth, the noise reached some time ago a level that makes it impossible for him to hear more than the odd word or phrase of those she addresses to him. ‘Side’ seems to be one recurring word - or is it ‘cider’? And ‘flight from hell’ - or was it ‘cry for help’? He is, you see, ‘hard of hearing’, or ‘hearing impaired’ or, not to put too fine a point on it, deaf - not profoundly deaf, but deaf enough to make communication imperfect in most social situations and impossible in some, such as this one.

He wears a hearing aid, an expensive digital device, with little beige plastic earpieces that fit snugly in both ears like baby snails in their shells, which has a program for damping down background noise, but at the cost of also damping down foreground sounds, and at a certain level of decibels the former completely overwhelms the latter, which is now the case. It is not helpful that the woman seems to be an exception to the rule of the Lombard Reflex. Instead of raising the pitch and volume of her voice like everybody else in the room she maintains a level of utterance