Friday, May 15, 2009

Einar's question

Einar asked a question to me:
“How much stuttering is socially acceptable?”

I know this is not a “politically correct” question. It not a scientific question, but rather a psychological or sociological one. I know stuttering is a disability, so nobody should be discriminated because of his stutter. But doesn’t the freedom of oneself end where the freedom of others starts? Let’s take a couple of examples: A group of people is having a discussion, one of those folks has a stutter. Do the other participants in the group have to wait each time he adds to the discussion? Or should the stutterer remain silent at times in order not to disrupt the flow of the discussion? Would it be rude or understandable if one of the other participants cuts his sentences off?

Or another example, a speaker at a conference stutters. Do the listeners have to sit and wait patiently for him to get his message across? (bearing the consequences: lost time, patience…). Up to what degree? How long can a block be to be "socially acceptable"? Would it be rude or understandable if one of the listeners loses his patience and walks out?
 As you wrote your question is not a scientific one, so different people will give different answers. I can only say that I cannot stand listening to my own stuttering for too long! For me, it clearly depends on the severity; if it is mild or just a few soft blocks, I don't care. So to be honest, I do not want to work with a colleague who stutters alot or have a girlfriend that stutters a lot. But then again, I also prefer my colleagues to be intelligent, funny, good-looking, fit, interesting, and honest!

Your question on how long a block is not be socially acceptable. I would go back to the science of stuttering, and say the following. Our neurology causes a long delay in speech initiation in every so many syllables: the exact frequency varying enormously depending on many factors. The reason why we develop stuttering symptoms as opposed to just delayed speech initiation is because this delay is not acceptable anymore and we try to counteract. I would be surprised if this research hasn't been done before. I believe it is about 2-3 seconds of silence when the listener starts to direct its attention to the lack of speech. After 3 seconds of silence where speech is expected, the abnormal territory starts and social pressure from ourselves and the listener is created, and mounting with further delay. It might even be possible to define real stuttering as silence of more than 3 seconds where speech was expected, and learned stuttering as dysfluent speech per se.


Einar said...

Thanks for your answer! After having rethought on this question for a while I would say this question represents a dilemma. On the one hand a stutterer should be free to stutter as much as he does (without being discriminated against in any way), on the other hand this would restrain the freedom of people around him. So I think this question needs to be negotiated depending on each situational context. For instance there has to be room in society for a stuttering kid in a school class or for a stuttering colleague at a workplace, or for a stuttering speaker at a conference. On the other hand I guess we will probably never see an openly stuttering news presenter, actor, weatherman... (though it would be nice if that actually happened someday)
I guess just like with any minority/disability/particularity, social acceptance for stuttering could be extended (and needs to be) with raising more public awareness on the subject.

AJ said...

Based on the theory of Evolutions and survival of the fittest...shouldn't severe stutterers be weeded out with Time (thousands of years).

So Stuttering might have some evolutionary advantages? Care to speculate? Some people subconsciously choose to stutter. Like self-mutilation (brains of self-mutilators)

And What was Moses' stuttering like? What is meant by "slow of tongue"?

Finally, can you examine Sheehan's Fight or Flight theory. In his psychological lab experiments, Sheehan showed that stuttering is an approach-avoidance conflict....So Sheehan was a bad Scientist??
Or was he correct....meaning that his theory explains secondary level stutterers.

ac said...

How much is socially acceptable often depends on status. To use your conference example, if you are a well known researcher who has just published several brilliant and controversial papers, people will put up with more. If you are the new guy who no-one knows, people might be polite, but they will not make the same effort to understand you.

It's pretty clear that in social situations like dinner and parties, a very low level of stuttering is acceptable. By acceptable I mean people will persevere with a conversation rather than find someone easier to talk to, unless this is counterbalanced by you having something extraordinarily interesting to say or a reputation for being awesome in bed.

Tom Weidig said...

I swear to GOD that at dinner and parties my stuttering is not as socially unaccpetable to girl as telling them that I have a PhD in physics and play chess! :-)


BJ said...

How do girls react to you? (maybe try to make stuttering joke).

So you do brag about your PhD in Physics and chess playing genius. Refer girls to your blog....

Pam said...

Very interesting topic. My stutter varies from mild to moderate, with only occassional blocks, and those are on the phone mostly, or when I have to use a microphone.
I have had one person say to me specifically that my stutter is attraxtive, and I have had oneperson say to me that in general he thinks women who stutter are very attractive.
I have presented at conferences, and my stuttering is extremely variable. I will admit I sometimes feel some pressure "not to stutter", but mostly I let the authentic stutter do its thing.
I get the rude reactions like everyone other stutterer, but more often, people seem to respect my willingness to be genuine. I am coming to like that more and more.

Blanka Koffer said...

yes, really interesting! there s a joke in german - newsflash: berlin. the annual conference of stutterers started yesterday and will end on sunday. the opening speech still continues -

and we had exactly that situation some years ago - a board member of the german national self help association had to report on last year s numbers and could not get the words out. it was so bad, that people, being stutterers ourselves, complained about him not letting someone else read his speech in order to keep the time schedule.

well... it s really a very good question and i liked the commentary of ac on it, yes, it depends. if you dont have all these social or situational advantages, you ll have to smoothe your stutter, make it more sociable or you won t achieve your goals (getting the job, getting the girl etc).

ac said...

I'm sorry to say I am guilty of that too, I have found in the past that I get really impatient with other stutterers.

Of course I would never say anything out loud, and I know it is deeply hypocritical of me, when my attitude has always been I don't especially care to speak with people who aren't patient enough to listen to me.

BJ said...

The irony of stuttering:

stutterers discriminating against other stutterers.

(No, I will not marry someone who stutters eventhough I am a severe stutterer myself).

What happened to: Treat people the way you want to be Treated...

LHL said...

I am an SLP who came to the field honestly, stuttering runs in my family. I've recently completed a 4 year intensive self-study of stuttering (the speaker's experience of it, therapy, research, and applications of what I've learned to daily clinical practice. I have a "stuttering equivalent," but unlike you all who stutter, I get to go without telling you what it is. =D I am the stuttering consultant (a name which ironically implies that I stutter) for a group for a group of 60+ SLPs and SLPAs in my city. Next Friday I'm going on a consult visit to one of my former students, whose SLP feels as though she's failing him because in grade 2 his stuttering is becoming more severe. I think that the both of them are suffering from the view that stuttering is unacceptable in all contexts, and I want to bring them some information on the relative acceptance/lack of acceptance of stuttering in other cultures. Is it true that in some Native American tribes, stuttering does not exist, for the simple reason that they talk so slowly and they don't mind if someone stutters? Or are there other cultures in which stuttering is less stigmatized than in ours? ---LHL