Stuttering (also known as stammering in the UK) is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages of sounds and syllables. The term is most commonly associated with the involuntary repetition of the first letter or syllable of a word, but it can also refer to unintentional hesitation or pausing before speech, referred to by stutterers as "blocks", or to the prolongation of certain sounds, usually vowels. For example, stuttering on the word "table" would become either "t-t-t-t-...t-table" or "ta-ta-ta-ta-...-ta-table." This normally happens with phonemes beginning with /p/, /b/ or some other plosive consonant. Stuttering is an involuntary process which hinders normal communication. Although there are treatments and self-help techniques, there is no verifiable "cure", with factors such as anxiousness, stress, or nervousness often escalating the problem.
Onset and causes
Usually, stuttering appears slightly before adolescence, and sometimes it disappears after puberty. However, if it continues to a mature age, it usually stays forever. In the United States, 3 million people (approximately 1% of the total population) are afflicted with some form of the disorder, and it is three times more likely for boys than girls. Stuttering can be treated through speech therapy, but the results vary. Most commonly, the problems can be decreased, but there is no objective way to measure the results.
Stuttering sometimes develops into blocking, that is, even the first letter or syllable becomes impossible to pronounce, i.e. blocked. This often leads to nonsensical syllables in the place of the word; can often force multiple attempts to say the word; and in extreme cases can cause the person to give up trying to say the word altogether. A natural explanation for this is that while trying to avoid stuttering or in fear of stuttering, the person cannot utter the word at all. This too is an involuntary action, even though the development from stuttering to blocks can be partly intentional.
There may be some genetic component to stuttering, as it can be hereditary; a specific gene has not been found.
In the past, this disorder was often attributed to psychological problems, such as children learning to speak and unable to find specific words becoming nervous. Perhaps the most prominent current view is that stuttering is caused by neural synchronization problems in the brain. Recent research indicates that stuttering is correlated with disrupted fibers between the speech area and language planning area, both in the left hemisphere of the brain. This disruption could have been caused by early brain damage or a genetic link.
The only thing truly known is that it is aggravated by anxiety. Great anxiety can also, although rarely, cause it to manifest in people who have never before stuttered. This said, the only way known to reduce stuttering is by teaching the person relax. This can allow people to go for years without stuttering, until something stressful happens. Of course not everyone can be taught to relax, and not everyone who appears to relax will receive any noticeable benefit.
A person who stutters may encounter difficulties with people they don't know, making it more difficult to make new friends, for example. As a practical note for non-stuttering people: most people stuttering would wish that the problem be ignored in normal situations. However, if stuttering causes a problem for the listener, then one should not be afraid to talk about it.
Some treatments for stuttering
There are many treatments for stuttering; none of them is 100% effective. Therapy can help to stop the disorder before it becomes a problem for life.
One way of helping the children is to educate their parents. Some advice:
- Offer a relaxed atmosphere at home and spend some time speaking with the child every day.
- Don't force the child to repeat the stuttered word until he/she says it properly.
- Don't force the child to talk in front of other people.
- Avoid telling the child to think what he is going to say.
- Listen to the child attentively.
- Speak slowly so the child can imitate.
- Let the child say what he is thinking and don't try to complete his thoughts.
- If the child asks about it, speak with him/her frankly.
The del Ferro method to combat stuttering focuses on proper control of the diaphragm.
There are also other treatments such as medicaments and electronic devices. Electronic devices are mostly based on altering the pitch with which the speaker hears his or her own speech, as well as delaying it somewhat. This approach alleviates stuttering for a large part of the people who stutter, even though it is still largely unclear why it works. Advances in digital technology has made this kind of devices possible and some tests have already been conducted with a small device, which is placed in the ear, like a hearing aid. However, it will take several years before such devices can be brought to the market.
- Lewis Carroll
- Winston Churchill
- Gareth Gates
- George VI of the United Kingdom
- Alvin Lucier (I am sitting in a room)
- Marilyn Monroe
- Kim Philby
- Mel Tillis
- Alan Turing
- Emperor Claudius
- Vernon Hill
- Scatman John
- James Earl Jones
- Paul Collier
Famous fictional stutterers
- Warner Brothers animated character, Porky Pig
- the South Park character Jimmy
- Ken Pile in A Fish Called Wanda. Ken Pile was played by Michael Palin, who has done a considerable amount of work to support charities which work to help people who stutter.
- Claudius in I, Claudius
- Arkwright in the British sitcom Open All Hours
- Professor Quirrell, character in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling.
- Stuttering Bill Denbrough, character in It (novel by Stephen King).
- The British Stammering Association (http://www.stammering.org/)
- The Stuttering Homepage (http://www.mnsu.edu/dept/comdis/kuster/stutter.html)
- Information for Listeners - What to do and what to know when speaking with a person who stutters (http://www.mnsu.edu/dept/comdis/kuster/InfoPWDS/Listeners.html)
- American Institute for Stuttering (http://www.stutteringtreatment.org/)