The Art of Ventriloquism
What is Ventriloquism?
Ventriloquism is the art of speaking in such a manner that the sound appears to be produced at a distance from the speaker.
The origin of the word, from venter, meaning belly, suggest that the voice was supposed to emanate from the speaker's stomach. The words are, however, produced in the usual manner, though some consonants may be masked by the immobility of the lips and teeth and the restricted use of the tongue.
Since the 19th century ventriloquists have used a dummy with a moving mouth to assist in the deception. They use the figure as part of an act which involves conversation between the puppet and the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist animates the dummy by moving its mouth while his own lips remain still, thereby completing the illusion that the voice is the dummy's, and not his.
Performers like Arthur Prince and Fred Russell started a tradition of comic repartee with their dolls which is carried on by many entertainers today.
How Ventriloquism Works
Ventriloquism is the art of "throwing" the voice; i.e., speaking in such a manner that the sound seems to come from a distance, or a source other than the speaker. At the same time the voice is disguised, adding to the effect.
The art of ventriloquism was formerly supposed to result from a peculiar use of the stomach during inhalation — hence the name, from Latin -venter + loqui, meaning "belly-speaking."
In fact, the sounds are formed in the usual manner adopted in talking, but the breath is allowed to escape slowly, and the mouth is held as nearly motionless as little as possible, while the tongue is retracted and only its tip moves. A deep breath is taken in and exhaled very slowly.
Tones are modified, or changed, by the muscles of the throat and the palate (narrowing the glottis). Pressure on the vocal cords diffuses the sound; the more pressure, the greater the illusion of distance.
Consonants are often changed to avoid syllables that require movement of the lips.
For instance, the letter P becomes a K.
B is treated in the same way, and is quickly slurred into a G or K.
Lack of facial expression on the part of the performer while the dummy is talking, helps to fool the audience.
The performer also constantly directs the attention of the audience to the place from which the sound is supposed to come.
It takes patient and prolonged practice to develop this ability.
History of Ventriloquism
Ventriloquism is an ancient art. Traces of the art are found in Egyptian and Hebrew archaeology.
It is quite possible that the priests of ancient times were masters of the art, and that to it may be ascribed such miracles as the speaking statues of the Egyptians, the Greek oracles.
Eurycles of Athens was the most celebrated of Greek ventriloquists, who were called after him Eurydeides, and also engastrimanteis ("belly prophets").
Many primitive peoples of modern times are adepts in ventriloquism; e.g., Maoris, Zulus and Eskimos.
It is well known also in India and China. In Europe and the United States ventriloquism holds a place in popular entertainment.
The word ventriloquism comes from the Latin venter, meaning belly, and loqui, meaning to speak.