An electrolarynx, sometimes referred to as a "throat back", is a medical device about the size of a small electric razor used to produce clearer speech by those people who have lost their voicebox, usually due to cancer of the larynx. The most common device is a handheld, battery-operated device placed under the mandible which produces vibrations to allow speech. Earlier non-electric devices were called mechanical larynxes. Along with developing esophageal voice, robotic voice or undergoing a surgical procedure, the electrolarynx serves as a mode of speech recovery for laryngectomy patients.
Initially, the pneumatic mechanical larynx was developed in the 1920s by Western Electric. It did not run on electricity, and was flawed in that it produced a weak voice. Electrolarynxes were introduced in the 1940s, at a time when esophageal voice was being promoted as the best course in speech recovery; however, since that technique is difficult to master, the electrolarynx became quite popular. Since then, many medical procedures, such as the tracheo-oesophageal puncture, were created to enable speech without continued dependence on a handheld device.
|Using A New Voice To Enjoy Life After Cancer (2:54), StoryCorps|
|Communication after laryngectomy (8:58), South East Coast Laryngectomy Support Groups (UK)|
The use of an electrolarynx can cause social issues, for instance difficulty ordering food, drinks, or other items in noisy environments; or, when answering a telephone, having the caller respond, "Am I talking to a computer?"
However, quality-of-life improvements due to electrolarynx usage are generally significant. One user states:
People are really very kind once they realize what the situation is. I may go into a restaurant once, and if I go back there a year later, and it's the same woman at the front desk, she'll say, "Where have you been? We haven't seen you for a while." So, I feel like a movie star...
I'm really very blessed in my life. I am happier now, without my voice, than I've ever been with my voice. It's a small price to pay for being alive and enjoying life. So I am very happy where I am now.
Traditional electrolarynxes produce a monotone buzz that the user articulates into speech sounds, resulting in the characteristic "robotlike" voice quality. However, in the 1990s, research and commercial multi-tone devices began to be developed, including discrete-tone devices using multiple-position switches or multiple buttons; as well as variable-tone devices controlled by single pressure-sensitive buttons, trackballs, gyroscopes, or even electrical detection of the movement of neck muscles. In addition to allowing speakers of non-tonal languages such as English to have a more natural speaking voice, some of these newer devices have allowed speakers of tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese to speak more intelligibly.
Notable fictional users
Fictional characters notable for their use of an electrolarynx include:
- Ned Gerblansky on South Park
- Stemroach (David Bradley) on Ideal
- Electrolarynx Guy (Jack Axelrod) on My Name Is Earl
- WWE wrestler Kane, for his first two years in the company (1998–99)
- The Smoking Family from Chewin' The Fat
- Charlie in Mad Max
- Zimos from Saints Row The Third
- Sawyer the Cleaner from Black Lagoon
- Agents of "Leviathan" on Agent Carter
- Emilio Sanchez, one of the residents of the Lawrence Hilton Jacobs housing project on The PJs
- Smokie Martling, a parody of Jackie Martling from The Howard Stern Show
- Komtuan, the crime lord from the film Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, notable as a speaker of a tonal language being understood despite using a traditional monotone electrolarynx
- Gray Baker in Dead Again
- Sheriff Jerry/Angela Baker in Return to Sleepaway Camp
- Department of Otolaryngology. "Electrolaryngeal Speech". Eastern Virginia Medical School. Archived from the original on 24 August 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Forman, Rene; Reiman, Nadia; Esty-Kendall, Jud; radio station KCRW (2012). "Using A New Voice To Enjoy Life After Cancer". StoryCorps. National Public Radio. Retrieved February 13, 2012. Also hear the audio at NPR
- "Communication after laryngectomy". South East Coast Laryngectomy Support Groups (UK). March 9, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
- "Whispers on the Web - December 2004". December 2004. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- "Servox Digital Electro Larynx Speech Aid". 2016. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
- "Nu-Vois III Electro-Larynges". Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- "The TruTone™ Electrolarynx". 2008. Retrieved 2016-08-10.
- Wan, Congying; Wang, Erqiang; Wu, Liang; Wang, Supin (2012). "Design and evaluation of an electrolarynx with Mandarin tone-control function". Audio, Language and Image Processing (ICALIP), 2012 International Conference on. doi:10.1109/ICALIP.2012.6376692.
- Shakya, Bicky; Bharam, Vishal; Merchen, Alexander (2014). "Development of an Electrolarynx Capable of Supporting Tonal Distinctions in Mandarin" (PDF). Trinity College (Connecticut). Retrieved 2016-08-10.
- Kubert, Heather L.; Stepp, Cara E.; Zeitels, Steven M.; Gooey, John E.; Walsh, Michael J.; Prakash, S. R.; Hillman, Robert E.; Heaton, James T. (2009-01-19). "Electromyographic control of a hands-free electrolarynx using neck strap muscles". Journal of Communication Disorders. 42 (3): 211–225. doi:10.1016/j.jcomdis.2008.12.002. PMC 3748802. PMID 19233382.