Thursday, March 09, 2006

Perfectly Fluent

Research always looks at people who stutter. Some researchers look at fluent people who are dysfluent: like Robin Lickeley does. I would like to look at the TV or radio presenter who are never dysfluent. Admittedly, there are some who are also a bit dysfluent, but there are some that are PERFECTLY FLUENT. Their speech is just sooo smooth and gently flowing... a joy to listen to. Clearly they are the antipodes to the stutterers. And in the middle, the vast majority of people who are a bit dysfluent or have hesitant speech. We stutter, and they anti-stutter.

What makes them so fluent? A higher level of concentration? A bigger brain area? We should put them under the brain scans, and then compare their brain activity with the PDS people. Shouldn't such a design give us even clearer signals??? Currently, controls are "normal" people who have some dysfluencies, and the difference between them and the people with PDS might be less clear than for perfectly fluent people.


John MacIntyre said...

Do you think somebody who doesn't have a problem could be convinced to participate in such a study?

It's my understanding that even PWS' don't participate in these studies very often.

Tom Weidig said...

Yes. In every brain imaging study, there are as many "controls" as there are people with PDS.

Most controls are students or people somehow connected to the researchers. In the same way, as the families or friends or neighbours of film directors get often recruits for very minor roles. :-)

John MacIntyre said...
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Anonymous said...

Trying to provoke me into commenting by spelling my name (Lickley) wrong, eh, Tom? Or is it revenge for calling you 'Weideg'?

Two main points caught my eye: 'perfectly fluent' people and a continuum between these and PDS.

A lot of the speech you hear on TV and Radio is so fluent because it's scripted - they're reading. But even newsreaders and weather reporters are prone to speech errors, which result in repairs, making their speech disfluent fairly regularly. Some of the work I have done on the perception of disfluent speech in 'fluent' people shows that it's actually very hard to spot a lot of the disfluency that is produced. Other work (recently published in Language and Speech by myself et al.) suggests (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that PWS are more sensitive to minor disfluencies in the speech of other people.

Anyway, the main point of your message seemed to be suggesting a continuum between the super fluent and the PWS with the 'normally disfluent' in the middle somewhere.

Well, there's certainly a lot of variation in a 'normally disfluent' population. One corpus that I've worked on (150,000 words, 64 'fluent' speakers) shows that speakers vary between producing 2.4 and 11.5 disfluencies per 100 words. But I wouldn't think that anyone would liken the types of disfluencies (hesitations and error repairs) produced by the guy with 11.5 disfluencies per 100 words to the blocks produced in stuttering: there's a qualitative, more than a quantitative, difference.

And if you recorded your super-fluent TV/radio presenters in normal dialogue speaking conditions, you would probably find that they are not a lot more fluent than others, when they're not performing (or reading).

To sum up: I don't believe in 'perfectly fluent'; I don't think there's a real continuum.