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Be A Ventriloquist

Updated on August 23, 2010

Ventriloquism is an ancient art of vocal and visual illusion, the production of speech and other sounds which appear to emanate from a source outside the speaker's person. Ventriloquial words are formed by retracting the tongue and moving only its tip, the voice being expelled from the slightly opened mouth. As the breath is released slowly through the glottis, narrowed by the retraction of the tongue, pressure is created, diffusing the sound. With the narrowed glottis muffling the tone, the illusion of distance increases in ratio to the degree of pressure built up when the mouth is nearly closed and the tongue retracted. These facts are contrary to the erroneous assumption that ventriloquial sounds originate in the abdominal region and are produced while the performer is inhaling, an assumption which- may be partly due to the Latin roots of the word "ventriloquism" (venter, "belly" or "paunch," and loqui, "spoken"). The use of a ventriloquist's dummy, with moving lips operated by the ventriloquist and timed to coincide with the ventriloquist's speech, completes the speech and sight illusion. Pantomime is also used to create the auricular and optical illusion that sound is emanating from an area or object some distance from the ventriloquist, whose lips remain immobile.

The art of ventriloquism is presumed to have been handed down from person to person, although its precise origin is lost in antiquity. Archaeological studies trace ventriloquism to early Hebrew and Egyptian civilizations. It is also presumed that certain members of ancient priesthoods were practitioners of the art of voice diffusion. Tradition has it, for instance, that miraculous sounds of warning issuing from the stone of the River Pactolus in Lydia repelled thieves who were bent on stealing the golden sands of that stream. The speech of the Greek oracles and the speaking statues of the Egyptians give further credence to this theory of ventriloquial priestcraft. Among the ancient Greeks, Aurycles of Athens has been identified as a master of ventriloquism and leader of a group of practitioners referred to both as Eurycleides and Engastrimanteis ("belly-prophets"). India and China are areas in which ventriloquism is a familiar art. The Eskimos, Zulus, and Maoris are among contemporary peoples of relatively primitive cultures among whom skilled practitioners of ventriloquism may be found.

Generally defined in the entertainment field as a form of conjury, ventriloquism continues to provoke mystery and call forth controversy. The point at issue is whether the ventriloquist throws his voice or whether this is an optical illusion which the artist creates by immobilizing his lips while speaking and effectively directing attention to the supposed source of the sound. At variance with the optical illusion theory is voice diffusion as practiced by birds and animals. The chickadee creates distinct ventriloquial effects by its note. A species of rabbit in Canada uses a high-pitched sound reputedly impossible to locate and capable of deceiving the rabbit's enemies as to its whereabouts. In further refutation of the optical illusion theory is the fact that dogs, in spite of their sensitivity to sound, seek the source of a ventriloquist's voice at the distant point from which it appears to emanate, and not in the person of the ventriloquist himself.

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