Ventriloquism Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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Ventriloquism is the art of speaking without visibly moving those parts of the body which are normally used for speech. The technique is useful for entertaining children, or for talking about private things that you don't want to be read from your lips, such as discussing soap in a prison yard, for example.

The term itself is misleading, and the art is mainly based on deception of the audience. Ventriloquists do not speak with their stomach, as the origin from the latin venter ('belly') and loqui ('to speak') would suggest. In fact, they use exactly the same apparatus as people normally do when they speak.

Basic Principle

Deception of the audience consists of six elements:

  • Substitute some specific sounds, or combinations thereof, by others that are similar but need no lip or chin movement.

  • Avoid those sounds which cannot easily be substituted. This is feasible because the text to be spoken is known to the artist in advance, and he therefore can choose synonyms for difficult words.

  • Keep one's mouth almost closed with the lips frozen in a 'keep smiling' position, which serves to hide movements of the tongue.

  • Hide the movements of the chest while breathing.

  • Distract the audience.

Distracting the audience, itself, consists of two elements:

  • Use a puppet, which the audience is encouraged to accept as being alive. This is much easier to accomplish if the personality of the puppet is one that the audience already recognises.

  • Significant changes in the pitch of the speaker's voice, used to distinguish the personality of the puppet, are a valuable technique that helps to cover the sounds that have been replaced. People will more easily forgive a puppet for using a somewhat weird pronunciation; people tend to understand what they want to understand, and not what their ears are actually hearing.

How To Do It

A vocabulary of replacement sounds is needed in order to approximate ordinary speech as closely as possible. The phrase 'would you like to come for breakfast' is converted to 'thould you like to cong   thor dreakthast?, for example.

The following replacements have to take place:

bsoft 'd' or 'g'
fvery soft 'th', with the tongue retracted a little back from 'th' to the 'h' position
m'ng' like in 'singing'
p'kh' or a sound halfway between 'd' and 't', spoken with the tongue touching not the teeth, but the upper gums. Difficult at word beginnings
vanother form of 'th'
wyet another 'th' variation, even softer than the 'f' substitute
mb'ng', ie: same as 'm' alone, forget about the 'b' in there

Some combinations need their own special treatment:

ppsupperavoid, or try a soft 'dd'
plreplaceavoid, sometimes 'kl' will do
pslipsavoid, or try 'ts' or 'ks'
spspeakavoid, sometimes 'sk' might work
ququantityone more 'th' derivative
ghlaughingsame as 'f', replaced by 'th'

There are some more tongue-twisters, but you will soon find them by yourself. Words ending in 'b' or 'p' are to be avoided completely, those ending in 'm' depend on the context.

Try It Out!

The following is a reworking of the introduction to this entry:

And now threeze your [lits] thace in a sngiling khosition, thile the start this entry all other again!

Thentriloquisng is the art oth talking thithout thisidly ngothing those dtarts oth your dody thich are norngally used.

The technique is usethul thor entertaining children, or thor talking adout [dtrithate] dtersonal things that you don't thant to de read throng your lidts.

[But] Hoether, the terng is ngisleading, and the art is ngainly dased on [decedttion] deceithing the audience. Thentriloquists do NOT [speak] talk thith their stongach, as the origin throng the latin 'thenter' and 'loqui' ('skeeking') thould suggest. In thact, they use exactly the sange addaratus as norngally skeaking [people] tholks...

... and so thorth!!

That do you think adout this? Isn't it stunning how thew sounds need [replacement] sudstitution in an atherage text?


Long autodahn thoyages are an excellent oddortunity thor training thithout getting lauthed at, decause nodody can realise that you are doing, and etherydody is glad to see a sngile on your thace.

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