"Speech Sounds" is a science fiction short story by Octavia Butler. It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1984.
A plague severely limits the ability of human beings to communicate with each other. Some can't read but can speak; some can speak but can't read; the effects of the plague are described as being "strokelike". A woman, Rye, meets up with a man who seems to have belonged to the LAPD in the pre-illness world. The man can read a map, but can't speak. Rye indicates to him that she can't speak, nor can she read. In the end, the man she calls "Obsidian" dies trying to defend a woman who is being stabbed by another man. Rye finds herself alone with what appear to be the woman's two children, but she makes an unexpected discovery: the children can speak. And, at the end of the story, Rye reveals that she, too, can speak. She hopes that the children's speech means that there is hope for human beings, that perhaps children will be unaffected. The story ends with this small moment of hope and unity, just as it opened with violence and a lack of any kind of community.
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