Wednesday, May 15, 1996

Stuttering and a career in science

A grad student asked about the effect of stuttering on a scientific career.

If you have enough interest in a subject to get a PhD, by all means get it! True, part of a scientist's job is communication, but "good" communication doesn't necessarily mean fluency, in any case there is a wide variety of research "styles" and abilities that can certainly allows for stuttering (OK a PWS is probably not going to be asked to be the next Carl Sagan for a TV series)

Overall I think that the Scientific/Academic communities are probably more tolerant than most in that they have the welcome tendency to look more at content than form.

Also, whatever your stuttering severity is now, don't assume you are stuck with it for the rest of your life. We disagree a lot on causes and thearapies (less so) on this list, but you'll see plenty of testimonials of people for whom stuttering has become less and less of a problem. I include myself among them.

I am not sure I would meet your measure of "successful" as a scientist, but I do know for sure that the ways in which I have fallen short have been due to other human shortcomings that have absolutely nothing to do with either my past or present stuttering.

Monday, May 06, 1996

Still on "good" Italian singers and "broken" stutterers

Look, Winston, I KNOW you were not trying to be demeaning. I am a trained singer myself (..yes tenor... the kind of voice that just gravitates towards Neapolitan classics - even though I'm from Milan -). I understand what you are talking about, but even in this area I have found pockets of "benign prejudice" that would juxtapose words such as LUSTY, BRIO, STRONG with sloppy, uncultivated, lacking in subtelty and on and on. It's not important whether or not you think Italians sing well or not. And even if you do, it doesn't make up for reaching what is MOST PROBABLY a wrong conclusion from your quite legitimate observation.

Winston is still wondering if there is a connection between the fact that the Italian PWSs "seemed", to him, " broken" ... "defeated" etc? And the way Italians tend to talk.

I have been saying two things:
1. Probably not, in spite of your observation, because
a) there are factors in Italian culture that could potentially offset the
negative (from a stuttering point of view) ones.
b) I would want to know more about the following: how many stutterers from other backgrounds do you know? What is your relationship with these stutterers? It sounds like they might be your students, in which case you might be confusing the kind of deference Italians feel for teachers with undue shyness and yes, your position could well produce extra embarrassment for stutterers. If they are your students then it shows that these people are subjecting themselves to the extra pain of facing a teacher for the sake of their art (is this "broken"? - but I'm just conjecturing).
c) One can question scientifically whether in fact loudness and vocalization have any effect on stuttering. I don't think so, but one COULD study this and one certainly SHOULD before coming up with labels such as "broken" for ANY category of people.
d) The evidence seems to be that there are about the same % of stutterers in all cultures, and they seem to be about as well adjusted as anybody else in the same culture.

2. One can certainly question point d) and bring in more conflicting evidence, BUT, particularly in light of the potential sensitivities involved, it would be wise to exercise some degree of circumspection and care in stating the questions and in proposing answers. This goes for IQ tests emotional test etc.

You keep saying "basta" and I agree, but there is simply no way I'm going to see the word "broken" associated with stutterers from ANY culture on the basis of the kind of observation you have stated, and just let it slide. Thousands of people read this. I don't advocate "Political Correctness" or ignoring areas of inquiry because of sensitivities. All I'm saying is: if it is sensitive it had better be real INQUIRY and not a casual comment you might throw in at a dinner conversation.

- How about stopping here (and/or taking it off-line... do I hear a chorus of yesses?)

More on stuttering and Italian

Further remarks were made on the supposed effects of Italian vocal mannerisms on stuttering.

I can only re-iterate what I said above. It's fine to speculate on whether certain conditions in one's upbringing can have a negative effect on stuttering, but to immediately generalize them to an entire culture, without bringing in other aspects of that culture that could in fact have a positive effect is really misleading and potentially hurtful.

This is the same kind of attitude that has brought us Polish jokes, prejudice against African Americans etc. etc. AND, btw, prejudice against stutterers in general (how can you go through life with that kind of handicap without going bonkers? ... Either that, or you were bonkers to start with.. which is why you stutter...).

I came to this country at 16 (for one year) and then at 20 years of age as a student. I was absolutely shocked at the "image" Italians had, and at the general paternalistic attitude I saw towards them (us). For one thing, most Italian immigrants to North America, came, as might be expected, from a specific socio-economic stratum and specific ethnic areas, but, while I am willing to concede that some characteristics that have been pointed out may be prevalent in these circumstances, to make a leap to a presumed worsening of stuttering or one's psychological makeup ("broken"!) is, at the very least, highly questionable.

This level of "enquiry", if it can be so dignified, is not useful (careful comparative cultural studies might be), but I am spending time on this because, whoever is so willing and ready to classify as "broken" the few Italian stutterers they have met, should at least know of one whose only "broken" parts are his PALLE (Italians will understand...) with the pursuit of this line.

Thursday, May 02, 1996

Stuttering and "loud" cultures

Winston Purdy commented on the possible effect of "vocal aggressivenes" in some cultures on stuttering. In particular he said about Italians: " I have met several Italians who stutter and they are all very shy and appear broken as people."

There are three issues here:

1. Do different cultures affect how many people will end up stuttering?

2. Can Italian culture be fairly portrayed the way you have (including
Italian stutterers as "broken" people)

3. Assuming the "loudness" aspect is true in general (and not socioeconomic -
note also that having lots of vocals has nothing to do with loudness). Would
this automatically affect stuttering severity and/or rate in the population?

Here are my answers:

1. I have only heard evidence to the contrary (can someone help?)

2. I will admit that my mother tended to be loud (she came from the town where
Pavarotti was born...). Other people in my family, and my father's side were not. I am an Italian stutterer. I doubt anybody who has even known me would ever have viewed me as "broken". I certainly haven't!

Many aspects of Italian culture would in fact be very supportive. Strong familiy bonds and pride, display of emotion, hugging and physical affection. My mother (unfortunately) treated my stuttering like a bad habit I could get rid off, and that didn't help. On the other hand she never showed anything but pride in me. If anybody had made fun of me she would have given them a bloody nose right on the spot.

My father ignored my stuttering, loved me to pieces, and was my best friend.

Overall I feel my upbringing had bad points and good points... just about like everybody else, Italian or not.

3. I doubt very much that loudness would have any effect on stuttering. People adjust to whatever the accepted level is, and go on from there. We develop fear of words, sounds etc.. Having to say them loud or not added nothing to that fear in my experience.

Overall the notion of the effect of cultures on stuttering is interesting to explore, but one should, as always, be very careful with sweeping and superficial generalizations. There MAY be interesting information here... but one can also hurt sensitivities needlessly.

Ciao to all.

"Unbrokenly" yours,