A Perfect Norwegian Stutter

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Re: Looking at the big picture

From: Paul Goldstein
Date: 09 Oct 2011
Time: 21:27:07 -0500
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Hi, Erin. Thanks for all these interesting questions! I will try to answer all of them for you, as best I can. Thanks for all the thought that you have put into these questions. First of all, I think you misinterpreted my answer to an earlier question (or perhaps I wasn't clear in how I expressed it). It isn't true that my speech in Norway is better than it "ever" was in the U.S. What I meant to say in my earlier comment is that NOW my speech in Norway is generally significantly better than it is in the U.S.(when I visit). While I lived in the U.S., for many years I diligently practiced and monitored fluency shaping targets, and was often very successful at this, enjoying quite a few periods of great fluency lasting many days, weeks, or even months. Soon after coming to Norway, I gradually came to the decision to not continue the practicing and monitoring of fluency targets, as the benefits of fluency in Norwegian life seemed to be outweighed by the disadvantages of the efforts required to maintain them - the daily drudgery of speech practice, along with the negative effects of the ups-and-downs of target use (sometimes excellent fluency, but sometimes major relapses when targets fall apart due to insufficient practice). Without fluency target practice, my speech in Norway remains on a fairly even keel, with neither the fluency periods nor the major relapses when the targets fall apart - and that speech predictability suits me fine. Also I have that extra hour available each day that was formerly devoted to practice; the benefits of having fluency in Norway just don't seem to justify the enormous efforts to maintain it. I personally don't see much of a difference between my levels of speech fluency in English and levels of speech fluency in Norwegian. (Here I'm referring to speech/stuttering and not to linguistic fluency.) Throughout the past decade, I can't say that my speech fluency/disfluency within Norway has been better in Norwegian than in English, or vice versa. The large majority of Norwegians speak a decent English, so I would say a large majority of my conversations here have been in English. I generally use Norwegian in situations when there's a specific reason to - for example, with people who don't know English well, or with young children. If the person I'm talking to doesn't mind using English, and can reasonably communicate with it, then I'm more apt to use English than Norwegian. I don't believe that recent advances and research into the genetic links in stuttering have uncovered anything specific to language. The evidence of genetic links in a neurological predisposition to stutter has really accumulated and strengthened in recent years, but these links exist across nations and cultures, and are not specific to a particular language or languages. People who stutter who speak more than one language generally stutter in all of them - at least that is my impression from knowing quite a few multilingual people who stutter. But there are always exceptions. There are some people who stutter who have been fluent in a newly learned language - at least for a while anyways, until the novelty of the language "wears off". By the same token there are also people who stutter who have minimal problems in their native language, but may be disfluent in a new language due to the added new stresses of communication. Personally I don't fall into either of those categories, but stutter about equally in all the languages I speak (English, Norwegian, Hebrew). You ask about the cases of adults who stutter who lose their hearing. A number of interesting issues are raised here. First of all, adults who lose their hearing (whether they stutter or not) in most cases don't learn sign language. Except for a possible loss in vocal tone quality/expression and appropriate use of vocal loudness, people who become deaf AFTER they have learned to speak (either children or adults) can normally still speak quite well, and their speech can easily be understood. The main communicative problem they encounter is not in expressing themselves to others (which they can still do effectively, with oral speech), but in understanding the speaking of others. Therefore, most people in this situation learn lip-reading. If one is skilled in lip-reading (also called "speech-reading"), then a person in this situation can usually converse quite well. Use of sign language would only be of benefit when interacting with people who who have always been deaf, and who have learned sign language as their primary means of communication. But leaving behind this practical issue for a moment, there are other interesting issues involved here. In virtually all cases, people who are deaf do NOT stutter. It is known that stuttering is tied in with the auditory feedback system, and when this system is no longer functioning, in virtually all cases, stuttering no longer exists. (There have been a few cases reported of deaf people stuttering, but they are very rare.) There are also a few cases known of stuttering in sign language, due probably to faulty timing impulses in neural signals (also a factor in speech stuttering). You ask if learning a new language is a beneficial form of speech therapy. My feeling is no. Speech and language are two different things. An increase in linguistic or interlinguistic fluency does not necessarily lead to an increase in speech fluency; in fact in some people this may decrease overall speech fluency. It all depends on the individual. There are stresses involved in learning a new language, and these may have a negative impact upon fluency -especially in the new language being learned. On the other hand there may be a novelty effect that may result in initial fluency in the new language, at least for a while. In either case, I wouldn't recommend learning a new language for the specific purpose of improving speech fluency; however, I definitely would recommend the experience of learning new language(s) to expand the range of one's communicative abilities, and to broaden the scope of life knowledge and opportunities. I hope these answers have been helpful!

Last changed: 10/09/11