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CHAPTER II

THE FACTS IN GENERAL

Because stuttering is little understood, I find it necessary, at this point, to make a few general statements concerning the nature of stuttering. By doing so I hope to describe the stutterer as a creature of everyday life. He is not to be thought of as a hospital patient or a laboratory subject; he is a human being who walks the streets, works, plays, and looks longingly into bakery windows like other people. What happens to him as he stands in front of the ticket office and gasps and blinks and chokes? What does he feel, and what fills his thoughts -- of which the amused bystander is unknowing?

As a stutterer, I experience a rather consistent bodily and mental state. The defect does not exist merely as an obvious inability to express myself adequately in speech; it involves a general complicated bodily tenseness as well, and a mental uneasiness, a real fear, which is apparent, as a rule, in my halting, shrinking manner of expressing myself, my thoughts, my emotions. I tend to hold myself in because I am afraid I shall stutter.

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BECAUSE I STUTTER

I am fully aware that the general opinion is quite to the contrary: that I stutter because I hold myself in. My most frank study of myself, however, leads me to oppose that superficial observation; it clearly bears out that stuttering comes first, and then the holding in, the shyness, the emotional chaos follows as an effect and not as a cause. The emotional morbidities constitute a reaction on the part of myself, a stutterer, to the social situations -- and this stuttering organism, with its muscular tensions, reacts more vigorously to some situations than to others. Stuttering, if my self-analysis is to be relied upon, is not a neurosis; a neurosis may, however, develop out of the fact that a glib society places a severe burden on the stuttering individual.

This holding myself in, this shrinking, gives a genuine sensation, an unpleasant sensation. Physiologically, it amounts to a heightening of the muscle tonus, apparently throughout the body. It is an attribute of fear, a gesture of defense. In more severe instances of stuttering, or anticipation of stuttering, I have become aware of an increased rate of heart beat, heightened blood pressure, flushing, perspiration, and trembling. The mental accompaniments have been chiefly dread, anguish, and a longing to escape, to vanish from the sight of those about me. I have felt weak, pathetically mortified,

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and incapable of speaking. At times I have responded to the restraint which stuttering imposes upon me, by general rage, with its physiological symptoms and its so-called mental flurry and decreased consciousness or awareness. As I look back, after having known a considerable number of other stutterers, I realize that my own defect was severe. Indeed, I have in my possession an objective record, made in the Iowa Speech Clinic Laboratories, which shows that I attempted, for nineteen seconds, to speak while drawing air into the lungs. It is only to be expected that I should respond to such depressing restraint with a whole repertory of embarrassment, anger, despair, rage-like effort, and a general feeling of futility. I should like to add at this point that the above describes something like what the stutterer is subjected to, for example, when a teacher calls on him for an oral recitation in the classroom!

Chiefly by means of introspection and retrospection, but also by reference to objective findings, I shall try to make this condition which the stuttering organism experiences comprehensible in detail. I shall try to picture it as the real, everyday thing that it is. No known laboratory instrument can make poignantly real the experiences of the stutterer by giving them the peculiar descriptive terms which

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they conjure up in his own consciousness, and while I shall add practically nothing to what is known of the anatomy, the neurology, and the physiology of speech, I shall lay bare and make vivid those physical and mental states in the stutterer with which the speech pathologist, the teacher, the social worker, and the parent must be concerned.

The occurrence of stuttering is determined not so much by the particular sounds or sound combinations met with in a particular location in a sentence, but more by the social situation in which speech is attempted. That is, the stuttering organism responds more vigorously to certain situations than to others. When alone I experience the least difficulty in talking, but I do stutter some, and on practically all possible sounds. Before a group, as in a classroom, or in a drawing room, I have, as a rule, my most severe stuttering -- and no sounds are excepted. I may add that pronouncing my own name, or the name of my home town, making formal or even informal introductions, and other tasks demanding definite articulations -- without allowing the possibility of substituting one word or sound for another -- present generally the most persistent and the most embarrassing difficulty.

Certain writers who have an eye for the obvious have attempted to explain the above facts, which

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seem to be rather common among stutterers generally, by concluding that stuttering is a symptom of fear. When the stutterer is afraid of stuttering, he will stutter; when he thinks he can talk, he can talk. So they say. The falsity of such a view becomes plain to me, when I attempt to understand the onset of my defect, which I touched upon in the preceding chapter. It is pertinent here, however, to point out the fact that the fear with which the stutterer responds to the task of addressing an audience is quite identical with the fear with which the normal speaker responds to the same situation. And the reason why the normal speaker does not stutter at such a time is merely that be is not a stutterer! On the one hand, the stutterer responds to an audience as a normal human being who is afraid of an audience of other human beings; on the other hand, he responds as a stutterer who stutters to an audience or to a maiden aunt or even to himself. The stuttering and the fear appear together, it seems to me, as two quite distinct responses, which, it is true, have become closely associated through experience and might easily be confused by the observer. Insofar as they may be related integrally to each other, it appears more logical to assume that the stuttering comes first, the fear second.

Another interesting and important fact is that the

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tendency to stutter may be more pronounced at one time than at another, in social situations by and large. Variation in the bodily and mental state characteristic of stuttering occurs with almost periodic regularity, the periodic wave enduring from two to three weeks. Concerning the factors responsible for this periodicity, I can only suggest presumptions. There seems to be some evidence that general bodily tone in each of us is periodically depressed or enlivened. It may not be a spurious observation that periodicity is a law of all nature. Such statements are more descriptive than explanatory, with reference to my particular case, unless it be inferred that I am no exception to a widespread rule, the generality of the phenomenon being in part an explanation of the individual case. At any rate, loss of sleep, fatigue, and worry, while influencing to a degree the tendency to stutter, do not account wholly for periodic fluctuations in that tendency. A separate and important problem of research is implied.

This periodicity does not indicate that stuttering is a so-called "mental" defect. There seems to be periodicity in mental states as much as in anything else, but it would be no more logical to suppose that fluctuations in the severity of stuttering are dependent on fluctuations in, say, self-confidence -- what ever that is -- than it would be to suppose they were

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dependent on fluctuations in metabolic rate. The latter, indeed, would be more logical. Since we are only guessing anyway, a rather formidable guess would be that variations in both self-confidence and stuttering were dependent on variations in metabolic rate. My point is that the notion that stuttering is a symptom of mental states rests on an extremely rickety foundation. One might select off-hand any number of other guesses that are superior to it, other guesses, moreover, which are themselves relatively worthless.

It is necessary, I think, to introduce two other facts at this point, although I shall develop them more fully in later pages. The one I have hinted above, that stuttering is a constant, though variable, factor, and persists subjectively as the anticipation that difficulty will be encountered whenever speech may be attempted, the dread awareness of stuttering as a fact of life. This is a genuine and analyzable sensation. The stutterer's ironic gag, "I don't always stutter -- only when I talk," is not really true, provided my own experience is typical. He is a stutterer first, last, and always, whether attempting speech or not. Moreover, neither logic nor my experience will permit me to assume that this fear, now so important, was the first cause of my speech defect. I am certain it did not exist until it arose

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as my reaction to my own difficulty in speaking. We may presume that I was called upon to speak, and I stuttered. The next time I was called upon to speak, I was afraid I should stutter. A conditioned response was thus simply set up (as regards the fear), and it was subsequently strengthened through exercise of it until it became an integral part of myself. The stuttering and the fear of stuttering (as distinguished from the fear of anything else) worked hand in hand to my disadvantage. Had my parents or my teachers been aware of that fact, and had they combated by sound mental hygiene the conditioning of that fear response in its early stages, no doubt my stuttering would have been robbed of one of its strongest allies. This fear of stuttering consists chiefly in the anticipation of difficulty, and it arises from the fact that stuttering has been known to occur before. It does not cause stuttering; rather, it is caused by stuttering that has occurred in the past. It is like expecting an apple to fall from the tree, because apples have been known to fall. One's expectation of such an occurrence does not bring the occurrence to pass; but the occurrence does come to pass -- and then the expectation is justified.

The other fact has to do with the practice generally known as substitution. Instead of attempting

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to say a word with which I feel I shall experience difficulty, I commonly substitute another word -- or phrase, or sentence -- which will convey approximately the same meaning. The result is that my speech defect remains relatively concealed from the casual observation of other people and that I mutilate more or less the quality of my verbal expression. I scarcely ever say anything in just the way I intend to say it; it is very annoying. My consolation is that a certain end is partially gained; I succeed in making my defect less obvious to others. Also, it has facilitated the acquisition of a larger vocabulary than I should have acquired otherwise.

I anticipate stuttering on a particular word from one to six words in advance, and immediately provide for the substitution of some other word or phrase. This anticipation is a function of the fear of stuttering, which, in turn, arises from my knowledge of the fact that stuttering has occurred in the past, under like circumstances. The factors, therefore, which cause it to arise may be found in the social situation, my state of fatigue or excitement, and other physical and mental conditions. On the whole, it is impartial to particular sounds; but certain special cases are exceptional to this rule. Those words which any polite, and more or less illusioned, person uses with decorous hesitancy have a tendency

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to aggravate my difficulty -- and they often render substitution glaringly obvious.

Substitution, however, while being rather a common practice, at least with myself, is neither always effective nor is it to be employed in anything like every case. Deficiency of vocabulary or the fact that some words cannot be replaced in a particular context often account for substitution being neglected. Moreover, it is frequently true that the substituted word is one on which I anticipate stuttering, and in such cases, unless a secondary substitution is instantly resorted to, stuttering may result. At all events, substitution is a task, an added burden from which the normal speaker is happily free. At those times when it leads me to make awkward or even inaccurate statements and thus makes me appear more stupid than I believe myself to be, it is a source of grief and embarrassment.

I have many other devices besides substitution which I employ for the purpose of avoiding stuttering; I wish to conceal my defect from observers and also to spare myself the struggle with a tongue running amuck. But I do not mean to leave the impression that these devices are sufficient to make my stuttering a defect of no importance. There are times when all the devices I can muster are of no avail. I have been forced into silence many times.

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On more than one occasion I have started to tell a story only to find it impossible to complete it. For many years I was even a believer in the idea that as I thought so was I; I told myself repeatedly that I did not stutter; I determined that I would talk fluently. With clenched fists I determined. And I stuttered just the same.

These few facts which I have briefly stated should be borne in mind as pertinent to practically any consideration of specific phases of the stuttering process. They will account, in part, for exceptions to many apparent rules, and they will throw a degree of light on many problems.


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