November 30, 2010

Stutterer Awareness?

You're going to be hearing a lot about the Weinsteins' movie The King's Speech between now and the Oscars. It's a sort of fake social concern Oscar film -- Stutterer Awareness! -- that turns out to be charming and entertaining.

And that got me thinking about why stutterers, like King George VI, aren't, actually, an identity politics special interest group. What helps determine who gets to be an identity politics group and who isn't?

Like left-handers, another group that isn't much of a group, stutterers occur fairly randomly across the population. So, the vast majority of their social allegiances are to non-stutterers. And most stutterers have non-stuttering loved ones.

Queen Elizabeth II believes her father's stutter was somehow related to his being forced as a child to switch from left-handedness to right-handedness, although the scientific evidence on this theory remains vague, at best. But that raises the point that Left Handers Liberation -- the big social change in the first half of the 20th Century when parents stopped forcing their lefthanded children to write righthanded (Ronald Reagan was a natural lefthander switched over to righthandedness, while three of the four subsequent Presidents have been public lefthanders) -- is completely off the radar. PBS never runs documentaries celebrating this triumph over bigotry.  

Lefthanders tend to view themselves as slightly better than righthanders (certainly at baseball, perhaps at creativity) who have to put up with a lot of hassles dealing with the physical world. In general, however, society expects lefthanders to pay for their own accommodations. For example, a running joke on The Simpsons is that Ned Flanders owns a shop at the mall that sells expensive scissors and so forth for lefthanders. Left-handed golf clubs are rare, so most left-handers play golf right-handed. Nobody ever gets worked up over this bit of unfairness.

Stutterers don't particularly want "awareness," either. Most stutterers would like to stop being stutterers. They view stuttering as a defect, which lefthanders generally don't view left-handedness.

Stutterers aren't, on the whole, all that articulate in speech (although there's a subset of stammering as an affectation: e.g., Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited or William F. Buckley going "B-b-b-b-b-b-but" on Firing Line as Hubert Humphrey steams onward).

It's worth comparing two kinds of deaf people: those who start out deaf and thus learn sign language, and those who gradually go deaf. The first form a small but rather fierce identity politics group, since their primary language is signing. (American signers can converse easily with French signers, but not with English signers, because American Sign Language is an offshoot of French Sign Language.) So, they form an insular cultural/language community. Innovations like cochlear implants threaten to take people out of the community, so leaders of the sign language using community tend to be against them. There is a lot of radical deaf activism at the sign language college, Gallaudet University.

On the other hand, the profoundly deaf aren't at all articulate, neither in speaking (of course), nor particularly in writing -- they have to think in sign language, in pictures of fingers according to Oliver Sacks, then translate into English. So, the media mostly ignore them.

People who gradually go deaf, on the other hand, do not form much of any kind of identity politics group at all. They are very happy to get better hearing aids.

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good point. Non-dwarf short people simlarly (AFAIK) have no identity politics associated with them. Nor do "Touretters." Nor do adults with IQs more than one SD below the median but above retardation. OTOH, fat people have climbed on the identity-politics bandwagon.
--JP98

Jim O said...

Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but aren't the autistic also evolving into a 'community' like those born deaf? Or so I hear.

Kylie said...

"Stutterers aren't, on the whole, all that articulate in speech (although there's a subset of stammering as the beautiful young man's affectation: e.g., Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited or William F. Buckley)."

In Brideshead Revisited, it was the eccentric Anthony Blanche who stammered, not the beautiful Sebastian Flyte.

Anonymous said...

"there's a subset of stammering as the beautiful young man's affectation: e.g., Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited"

No, it's Anthony Blanche who stutters. Anyway, in England, stuttering is the mark of intellectuals at Oxbridge.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian didn't stutter. You mean Anthony Blanche!

Anonymous said...

"Stutterers don't particularly want 'awareness,' either. Most stutterers would like to stop being stutterers.

I suppose most stutterers believe that they can stop stuttering or at least reduce the stuttering to an acceptable level. When one realizes a condition can be remedied, they don't want "awareness" or a political lobby on their behalf.

My nephew began stuttering badly during puberty. He was taken to a counselor, evidently a very good one, who gave him tips about how to breathe, pace his speaking, and other "tricks" to overcome what had become a real blow to his self-confidence. I suppose they also talked about other things, but I wasn't privy to those exchanges. There was a noticeable improvement w/in the first couple of months, and by the year's end, only rarely would the problem resurface in its severe state, usually when he grew agitated or angry. Then, you could see him gather himself, calm down, and proceed, usually almost stutter-free. He is now middle-aged and only rarely does he stammer, and when he does, it's so mild I doubt that anyone other than family members who know his history notice.

As for other minorities--like you say, being a lefty, especially for guys, can be positive so why bother wanting a remedy? That and the fact that most lefties are pretty ambidextrous.

As for those for whom there's no positive pay-off (lefties) and no remedy, such as gays? Well, many do struggle to change their attractions and find that they can't. So, they're stuck with what they have (or don't have). Until science finds the cause....and the cure?

ksoren said...

Left-handed golf clubs are rare, so most left-handers play golf right-handed.

Interestingly, of the three left-handed golfers to win Majors (Bob Charles, Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson), none of them is a natural left-hander.

josh said...

You know, I never give it much thought, but when I do, I actually do think I'm slightly better than right-handers. How did you know that, Steve?

"Left-handed golf clubs are rare, so most left-handers play golf right-handed."

That can't be right. They cost the same. Incidentally, I think dog-legs and other aspects of course layout are slightly pro-righty.

The one thing that nature chose to favor lefties: Toll booths. I almost found the invention of easy pass disappointing.

josh said...

Larry David wants to establish bald people as a protected group.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but aren't the autistic also evolving into a 'community' like those born deaf?

I've heard the same thing about individuals with milder degrees of Down's syndrome. I came across a group of Down's adults in their 30's - 40's walking together once and that's what it looked like to me.

Anonymous said...

I suppose most stutterers believe that they can stop stuttering or at least reduce the stuttering to an acceptable level. When one realizes a condition can be remedied, they don't want "awareness" or a political lobby on their behalf.



Then how do you explain the fact that fat people have become a weighty political lobby?

A good book on lefties is "A Left Handed Turn Around the World."


On the other hand, the profoundly deaf aren't at all articulate, neither in speaking (of course), nor particularly in writing -- they have to think in sign language, in pictures of fingers according to Oliver Sacks, then translate into English. So, the media mostly ignore them.

Just to be clear, are you saying that people think in language, i.e. that language is the substrate of thought? Or are you saying that, to express themselves, deaf-from-birth people must translate from thought, to sign language, to English? The latter notion is probably true, the former almost certainly false.

dearieme said...

"in England, stuttering is the mark of intellectuals at Oxbridge."
Oh, f-f-f-f-fuck off.

anony-mouse said...

Southpaws live shorter lives on average than normal people.

Anonymous said...

What about Churchill? Some sources I've seen say he was a stutterer who overcame his condition, while others say he was a stammerer who worked his way to speaking mastery. Practically no independent account though claims that he didn't have some kind of serious speaking impediment as a child and young man, and he alludes to it himself a few times in his memoirs.

His family (and the trust/historical foundation they run), on the other hand, deny he ever had either condition. What is their reason for saying so?

SFG said...

"Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but aren't the autistic also evolving into a 'community' like those born deaf?"

http://www.autistics.org/

and a bunch of others.

I don't know how far this is going to get. I doubt Asperger's was such a huge deal before the collapse of industry; you just got a factory job or worked as a skilled tradesman. Now that everything's social...

asdfasdfasdf said...

It's hard to take pride in stuttering. Deafness, on the other hand, has a rich culture around sign language. And blind people often play good music or do cool Zatoichi stuff. Some autistic people have special skills. But stuttering is just sorryass.

Deaf people and blind people can play victim but also pose as people possessed of special qualities due to their handicaps. Blind people have great hearing and smell. Deaf people are physically very expressive.

But stutterers just stutter. There is no advantage to be had. It's either funny or pitiful.

Anonymous said...

Is there a tiny pecker identity group?

Anonymous said...

"OTOH, fat people have climbed on the identity-politics bandwagon."

Let's hope they are evenly distributed around the sides.

Mid forty-ish men who listened to prog rock as teenagers are another non-identity group. Who wants to admit he was a poseur fag in high school?

ironrailsironweights said...

What's the most dangerous thing about being a stutterer?

If a huge muscular guy asks you a question ... and he stutters.

Peter

B Lode said...

I would rather not have dysnomia than have it, but I would rather there be some awareness of the condition than none. I forget words, but they are only nouns, and it only occurs when I am under some kind of time pressure. It leaves me utterly unable to argue with any modern person, since most modern typicals argue mainly by interrupting and you have to keep making your point over and over with no pauses in order to be heard. I of course have to pause frequently to recall even simple nouns, and am often confused of simply pretending to not know the word since it is "so simple everyone knows it".

So yeah, I could use a little awareness of my condition, meaning formal, learned awareness, not just awareness of the "some jerk finding a weakness and exploiting it" variety.

slumber_j said...

I'm stone-deaf in my left ear: it doesn't receive at all and never has for most or maybe all of my life. (I may or may not have had mumps when I was two, which sometimes fries the auditory nerve, which is where my problem lies.)

Does this make me "hearing-impaired," as the formulation goes? Of course it does. But it's never made me seek some special dispensation in the courts or wherever.

I live my life differently. I literally do that: sitting at one corner of the table whenever possible, et cetera. What's so complicated about that?

stari_momak said...

It's K-k-Ken, c--c-c-oming to k-k-kill me.

Anonymous said...

"I'm stone-deaf in my left ear: it doesn't receive at all and never has for most or maybe all of my life."

Same problem, same ear. I've never wanted to start an identity group, either, but once, when I had to ask some asshole to repeat hisself three times and he yelled "get a hearing aid," I about knocked the shit out of him. If a hearing aid would do any good I'd already have one.

Still, no identity group. And yes, you live your life differently.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks for the Flyte / Blanche error-checking.

bluto said...

College educated lefties are on average quite a bit more successful than their rightie counterparts. Also, we're very good at fencing and tennis in addition to baseball.

Also, while 20 years ago left handed clubs were rare special orders, today they're well stocked at any sporting goods store. Josh, it's not all that frequent but a good reason for the difference is they're rare/more expensive because they require an extra set of most manufacturing tools, but only account for about 10% of the population, half of which already learned to play right handed.

Michael Farris said...

Okay, I'm a linguist who's studied sign languages.

"American signers can converse easily with French signers, but not with English signers, because American Sign Language is an offshoot of French Sign Language"

Sort of. Old French Sign Language is like Latin and Greek for most modern European and American sign languages. British Sign Language is kind of like Hungarian in that regard surrounded by languages that it's not related to. Irish Sign Language also comes from the French tradition.

But the ability of deaf people to cross language barriers is usually overstated. They can go further quicker than hearing people can but it's not easy. On the other hand, all natural sign languages seem to be of a single typological kind and their grammars (all over the world) vary about as much as Spanish and Italian and French do.
This means that a deaf person using one sign language can become fluent in another very rapidly.

"On the other hand, the profoundly deaf aren't at all articulate, neither in speaking (of course), nor particularly in writing"

True. They have to write in a foreign language after years of instruction that at its best is not very good and is more typically very dysfunctional.
The education of deaf kids mostly remains untouched by anything that linguists have figured out about language acquisition (first and other) and sign languages for the past 50 years. Efforts to drag it into the 1970s or 80s have mostly failed.


"they have to think in sign language, in pictures of fingers according to Oliver Sacks"

I really think he was wrong on that, it made a cute book title but that's about it. Sacks implies that deaf people think by seeing a person signing in their mind's eye. All the evidence I have (inlcuding my own experience) is that for most users, thought in a sign language is more like a set of phantom arms(that is it's not in the mind's eye but rather than mind's hands).

I'm not sure if autistic are evolving into a community but the Aspergers certainly seem to be. I once stumbled onto an Asperberger forum where they shared a lot of their frustrations about dealing with 'typicals' and tips for how to deal with us.

Steve Sailer said...

Dear Michael:

Thanks. Most informative.

Steve

Michael Farris said...

While I'm here. The term 'hearing impaired' in practical terms means "hearing loss that significantly impacts on a person's ability to perceive speech in real time". This is my own definition but it seems based on how people use the term rather than what

A person with roughly normal hearing in one ear and no hearing in another usually doesn't have so many problems understanding speech and those that do occur are usually more or less easily reparable.

John Craig said...

"Good point. Non-dwarf short people simlarly (AFAIK) have no identity politics associated with them. Nor do "Touretters." Nor do adults with IQs more than one SD below the median but above retardation."

In fact adults with IQs more than one SD below the median do have an interest group to support them. It's called the Democratic Party.

Anonymous said...

I would have a lot more sympathy for the Asperger's identity group if they'd chosen a term other than "neurotypical" for non-Asperger's people. To me, the word "neurotypical" seems like it should mean "pertaining to neurotype", in the same way that stereotypical means "pertaining to stereotype".

The way people on Wrong Planet and other sites use the word makes me think of some valley girl saying "typical".

Anonymous said...

In fact adults with IQs more than one SD below the median do have an interest group to support them. It's called the Democratic Party.

Maybe if we're including all the blacks and Hispanics. Low-IQ Whites are going to be strongly Republican.

ka, Ka .. Katana said...

bu, but .. But whA, wha, about u, us fo, folk wH who, who o only stut stuter stutter stutTER (left hand whacks back of right hand) in their writing? We rarely write because we are so .. misunderstu ..stu stood (right hand ....

Laban said...

"Mid forty-ish men who listened to prog rock as teenagers are another non-identity group."

Given that prog rock was a 70s phenomenon, they'll be 50ish.

In the UK they have their own radio station.

Anthony said...

People who became deaf don't make a good political identity group because a) they want something very limited and concentrated, b) other than age (to some extent), they have nothing in common, and c) if any particular deaf person gets what they want, they're no longer functionally a member of the group

Blacks make a good political identity group because a) they want more money, power, and respect - very open-ended goals, b) they mostly have the experience of a common culture and of racism from whites in common with each other, and c) if you're black, you're always going to be black.

Most of the examples of groups which haven't fallen into identity politics match the "became deaf" list, while those who are forming political identities generally match the blacks. Except for fat people, sort of. Fat people find it very hard to actually follow through on what it takes to be not-fat, they are discriminated against in ways which don't rationally relate to their being fat, and "respect" and "acceptance" are pretty big open-ended goals. So unless we discover that the obesity epedemic of the past 30 years is actually pathogenic, fat as identity actually makes some sense.

Anonymous said...

"Then how do you explain the fact that fat people have become a weighty political lobby? "

You have a point because there is, of course, a remedy for fatness--reduce fat/caloric intake, increase exercise.

However, what I should have added is that the stutterer finds no group of stutterers around him. Yeah, there are other stutterers, but they aren't readily found. Even if they were, I doubt they'd form a club. There's no street cred, no status derived from such a handicap. Maybe some rapper or rock icon will make stuttering into a cool thing. Then, all might change.

Same with fat kids in high school. Our schools are loaded with overweight and morbidly obese kids. However, there are no clubs (that I know of) for fat kids as there are clubs for gays and ethnics.

What does exist is a walking class that gives phys ed credit. It was designed for those kids who detest participation in traditional sports and for those for whom participation in sports is simply too difficult-- the obese.

Here's what happened: the class became very popular with an assortment of kids, including both sexes. However, after a few short weeks, most of the obese began to cut class, then stopped going altogether. I had two such kids in one class. They shared their excitement about the class when it first began. When I inquired about how it was going, I could tell their interest had waned. A short time after that, I checked with the teacher and discovered that both had simply stopped going to class. I questioned each only to find that their lethargy in this activity matched their lethargy in just about everything else.

Their weight is a symptom of everything else wrong in their lives, but the bottom line is that food and the tv and electronics have become their best friends, their family. They go home to them as soon as they can.

Only when the obese reach adulthood do some seem to develop the "fat is beautiful and we are victims" attitudes. I've not yet heard that from a kid. The self-hate is too great.

Anonymous said...

I always suspected that Buckley's stammering was an affectation.

Anonymous said...

The internet is really the ultimate enabler for identity politics. There are groups for everyone, and in time, I expect more and more of these groups to organize into entities with political goals.

Kylie said...

"It's worth comparing two kinds of deaf people: those who start out deaf and thus learn sign language, and those who gradually go deaf. The first form a small but rather fierce identity politics group, since their primary language is signing."

No, I think the first form a small but rather fierce identity politics group because they have no choice. They can't pass as part of the larger group of hearing people. Kind of like how Obama chooses to self-identify as black.

Svigor said...

It's K-k-Ken, c--c-c-oming to k-k-kill me.

REVENGE!

Dutch Boy said...

Jim O said...

Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but aren't the autistic also evolving into a 'community' like those born deaf? Or so I hear.

Answer: there is a bunch who call themselves the neurodiversity movement (they are a few high-functioning autistics and their supporters). I think most people in the autism community consider them loons or Big Pharma trolls.

B Lode said...

I would have a lot more sympathy for the Asperger's identity group if they'd chosen a term other than "neurotypical" for non-Asperger's people.

I'm pretty sure "neurotypical" was coined by one person or a small team of neurologists. I don't really think it was voted on or anything.

Anonymous said...

SFG:
I don't know how far this is going to get. I doubt Asperger's was such a huge deal before the collapse of industry; you just got a factory job or worked as a skilled tradesman. Now that everything's social...

You got that backwards.

Before the collapse of industry, and before the public availability of the Internet, everything was more "social" than now. There was more of the gossipy small-town locker room atmosphere, even in big cities. Career-wise, more depended on the Good Old Boys Network and knowing all the right people.

Sure, the Internet is putting more people in touch with more people - but not the ones that judge character by haircuts and nervous tics.

Anonymous said...

Butch Boy:
Answer: there is a bunch who call themselves the neurodiversity movement (they are a few high-functioning autistics and their supporters). I think most people in the autism community consider them loons or Big Pharma trolls.

If anything, the neurodiversity movement considers the rest of the autism community to be the loons, Big Pharma trolls, and self-hating establishment sellouts.

Anonymous said...

I meant "Dutch" not "Butch".

jody said...

i've done a decent amount of research into handedness, and there IS attention paid to left handed people as a group.

definitely in small arms, most new weapons are now deliberately designed to be ambidextrous. i've also seen various tool makers, not all of them, but many, who have switched up their design process to produce ambidextrous hand tools and power tools. this makes things more useful for lefties, but more importantly, it makes them safer.

in sports, not only do left handed pitchers do better, but left handed tennis players do better, and left handed boxers do better. i believe evander holyfield went 0-3 against left handed boxers. i'd have to go back and check but i think that was the number i came up with. so being left handed and good, was more important to beating him, than being right handed and great.

Arnold said...

I am a left-hander and (for 95% of the time) ex-stutterer, belonging to the first generation in Australia of schoolkids who weren't penalized for being left-handed.

Until about 1965, it was just taken for granted in Australian schools - particularly Australian schools out in the boondocks - that if you were born left-handed, the teachers would nag you and if necessary whack you into right-handedness or else. But I started school in 1967, in the boondocks, just after this procedure had died out. Thus, as a kid, when I wrote in public and revealed my left-handedness, I was frequently asked: "Don't you get punished for being left-handed?" Well, no, I didn't.

It's accordingly hard for me to believe that George VI's stammer resulted from enforced abandonment of left-handedness, because if it had been, then surely until recently schools would have been crawling with ex-left-handed stammerers. They weren't.

My impression is that stuttering is easier to fix than stammering. I have never stammered. As a kid and adolescent I used to stutter, but by being trained to slow down my speech and to breathe more slowly - as well as, oddly enough, to sing, which seemed to be especially helpful - I gradually overcame stuttering. Today I stutter only if unusually tired or nervous.

R. J. Stove said...

A distinguished southpaw whom nobody has mentioned on this thread to date: C.P.E. Bach, most musically eminent son of the Bach. C.P.E. - for all his skills as composer and keyboard player - never learned to be a virtuoso violinist, because (you guessed it) he was left-handed.

CJ said...

anony-mouse said...

Southpaws live shorter lives on average than normal people.


This may be all over the internet, but it is a myth. See here and here.

Yes, I'm left-handed. I pine for the return of sinistral greatness to NFL quarterbacking, where today the torch is carried only by ... Michael Vick. While we're at it, why is it that on golf courses 98% of the players swing the club on the right side of their body, but on baseball diamonds lots of batters stand on the right side of the plate? And on hockey rinks sometimes it seems like at least half of the players shoot left -- something that requires left-handed sticks, which seem to be produced and sold in approximately equal numbers to right-handed sticks?

SGOTI said...

Is there a tiny pecker identity group?

Daily Kos

Anonymous said...

Deaf identity politics remind me of gay politics. I see them both as disabilities.

I wouldn't want any of my kids to be disabled in anyway but both deaf and gay parents often want their children that way. It is just weird.

Like some wag suggested, genetic engineering is reaching the point where children can be designed from the ground up so dwarfs could have children who are not congenitally damaged but naturally short with broad shoulders and a penchant for broadswords, battle-axes and making good beer and masonry.

Deaf parents could arrange for kids without hearing through their ears but maybe some weird-ass EM sense. Who knows. I suspect once people can design their kids (beyond picking their mates) they'll make Olympic Athletes that look like models and think like PhD candidates. Only a few will look to Khazad Dum or Santa's workshop for their kids.

Anonymous said...

It always annoyed me that the Marine Corps never issued left-handed M16/M4 rifles. I hear that the Army, with its vastly larger resources, does issue lefty rifles. Is this true?

B Lode said...

It always annoyed me that the Marine Corps never issued left-handed M16/M4 rifles. I hear that the Army, with its vastly larger resources, does issue lefty rifles. Is this true?

The Army and the USMC issue the same stuff. The M16 isn't technically ambidextrous because there is a definite left and right to its design: it kicks spent brass to the right. Thus folks firing off the left shoulder get brass blown past their face, which some find obnoxious.

Bolt-actions, mostly gone (but the USMC still uses the M40A1, older brother to the Army's M24) are a much bigger pain to use wrong-handed.

The Austrians and Australians uses the Steyr AUG, which can be made totally lefty without much trouble. I gather it isn't done all that often but I'm no expert.

Dutch Boy said...

It was always good for a horselaugh at the range when that hot .223 brass went down some lefty's shirt collar!