Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stuttering-language connection?

I have always questioned the connection between language and stuttering. Clearly, adults who stutter do not seem to show any language deficits. I have not observed a deficit in myself, nor in others. Studies showing a connection therefore must suffer from statistical error (correlation by chance), sample error (clinicians only see the extreme cases, i.e. children suffering from multiple deficits), and measurement errors (language ability measured wrongly), if I am right.

Here is an article by Nippold from the University of Oregon questioning the connection.


This article explains why it is reasonable to question the view that stuttering and language ability in children are linked, the so-called "stuttering-language connection."


Studies that focused on syntactic, morphologic, and lexical development in children who stutter (CWS) are examined for evidence to support the following claims: 1) that CWS, as a
group, are more likely to have disordered or weak language skills ("language deficits") than children who do not stutter (CWNS); (2) that language deficits play a causal role in the onset of stuttering; and (3) that stuttering, over time, restricts children's language development.


Analysis of the evidence suggests that CWS, like CWNS, show the full range of language abilities (high, average, low); that language deficits are not associated with stuttering onset or persistence; and that stuttering has little or no impact on language development.


A connection between stuttering and language ability was not supported. An alternative perspective is that CWS have a compromised motor control system that makes it difficult to move forward in speech and that the tie to language lies not in a deficient linguistic system but in difficulty expressing the intended meaning via a fully functional speech system.


Jon said...

From the abstract, the authors seem to assume that a general 'linguistic deficit' is required for there to be a causal linguistic element to stuttering. However, just as the symptomatic motor failures of stuttering are intermittent, rather than integral, a linguistic failure could also be intermittent. An intermittent failure to pass correct word images to the motor control processor could produce a failure that mimics a motor control failure. And inn order to rule out linguistic factors, they need to explain why stutter blocks are more common in content as opposed to function words (at least in adults) and why greater linguistic complexity increases stutter rates. Also, why is it that artificial nonsense sentences produce less stutter blocks than sensible sentences?

Anonymous said...

Jon has really good points, but I've associated this with the emotions the words have rather than linguistic complexity. For example, I've always thought we stutter less on profanity because of the emotions associated with the words.

Jon said...

Anon - linguistic complexity refers to length of sentence, combinations of phrases and clauses, etc. Even word length increases stutter rate. Emotion may also have an effect, but the difference between content and function words seems independent of emotion. Content words like garden, painting and janitor have no more emotional content than function words like if, but, and hers.

The difference is that the stutterer may be able to recognize and relate emotional content to stuttering outcome, but very few stutterers have any idea that they stutter more on content than function words.

Tom Weidig said...

>> Content words like garden, painting and janitor have no more emotional content than function words like if, but, and hers.

That is very likely not true.

By themselves no words have an emotional "content" per se.

It's our interaction with our internal and external world that creates associations between concepts / words and emotions.

And everyone has different associations.

Peter Louw said...

"Also, why is it that artificial nonsense sentences produce less stutter blocks than sensible sentences?"

I would say it's because nonsense sentences do not involve much communicative stress. There's little or no pressure on the speaker to be understood.

"They need to explain why greater linguistic complexity increases stutter rates."

I have always thought that greater linguistic complexity increases the stress on the speech system.

Peter Louw said...

So maybe the current term "speech and language therapist / pathologist" is incorrect? Should it just be "speech therapist / pathologist" as it was years ago before they added the "and language"?

JTierney-Sveigdalen said...

While I cannot speak intelligently about speech-language pathology, I can speak anecdotally. I agree with Tom that questioning a connection here is appropriate.

As a person who loves a spouse who happens to stutter, I know deeply that he is one of the most gifted with language acquisition and use. His native language is a Norwegian dialect and next the formal Norwegian, Bokmål. He speaks English in such a way that I often forget it wasn't his own language. He also speaks German and other Scandinavian languages.

He is neither an academic nor terribly interested in language (or speech-language pathology!) yet at times he is almost unable to speak due to stuttering.

I say this somewhat lightheartedly, but I think the real problem to be addressed is the fact that some people cannot hear through a speech defect to the real message a person is trying to deliver. There is definitely a connection there ;)

hadid said...

hi this hadid from afghianistan i have a problem ( stuttering ) when i be alone and talk with myself i don't fell any stutter but when i talk wiht any one on that time i fell i have more stutter specillay in ( d . p .q . k . t) in this letters i have more problem. i wish u help me .