What is this thing we call stammering or stuttering? How can we explain it to those who never experienced it? Why stammering is often considered a minor disorder?
As mentioned in my previous post, first comes the body tension. A presence that shadows each and every of our moves, ready to strike when least expected and strangle our words before ever come out.
Then there are the blocks caused by the stiffening of the muscles involved in speech production – what William Parry calls Valsalva maneuver in his book Understanding & Controlling Stuttering: A Comprehensive New Approach Based on the Valsalva Hypothesis. So much so that a severe stammerer could be unable to utter a single words for prolonged periods of time when faced with stressful situations. Hence unable to express himself, his basic wants and wishes. Isn’t this temporary mutism?
This is, of course, part of the very core of the stammering symptoms. Then there is the other, the visible one.
But let’s look at how dictionaries define stuttering or stammering:
‘Stutter/stammer: talk with continued involuntary repetition of sounds, especially initial consonants:the child was stuttering in fright.’
‘Stutter: to speak with involuntary disruption or blocking of speech (as by spasmodic repetition or prolongation of vocal sounds).’
‘Stammer/stutter: to speak or say something with unusual pauses or repeated sounds, either because of speech problems or because of fear and anxiety.’
I find these definitions extremely significant! According to them, the main features of stammering are involuntary pauses, repetitions and prolongations, but the dictionaries do not go any deeper.
On the one hand it’s understandable. Stuttering is such a complex speech disorder, still largely unexplained, and dictionaries have to provide a succinct entry. On the other, more effort could be made to give a more thorough definition.
I would suggest for example that stammering varies a lot in its symptoms both from person to person and from moment to moment. This is a major difference to other disorders, which are often fixed in time. Such a variability puts enormous stress on a person who stammers, knowing that the ‘hangman ‘ could strike any moment (see my previous post).
Hence I would add to any definition that stammering is also characterized by symptoms (e.g. muscular tension and blocks), varying in strength from person to person and in time, which could leave a person unable to speak altogether when they wish to do so.
I find this a fundamental point to make. Interestingly, dictionaries probably reflect only the widely accepted view of stuttering, namely it is not a serious speech disorder.
Logically, the next question would be: what can we do to change the view the general public holds on stammering?