Disfluency

Here is your word for the day, Kay Nouers.

Disfluency = an interruption in the smooth flow of speech, as by a pause or the repetition of a word or syllable.

In other words, stuttering.

Some causes of disfluency include anxiety, low self-esteem, nervousness and stress.

David Seidler wrote the screenplay for recently-released film, The King’s Speech.  This movie focuses on King George VI’s disfluency, and his struggle to overcome it just prior to his reign as king.  In a recent interview with Artvoice, screenwriter David Seidler was asked how he became interested in this subject.  He replied:

Very simple—I was a stutterer. As a very young boy I was transported from England to the United States. The trauma of that started a very severe stutter. As the war progressed, my parents allowed me to listen to the radio, and they said, “Listen to the king’s speeches because he stuttered very, very badly and listen to him now,” and it gave me hope that one day I could be cured.

This reminded me of someone.  Who was it, again?  Oh yeah.  It was my son.

When Island Boy arrived from Haiti under extreme circumstances in January 2010, he exhibited unexpected speech habits.  For example, he might ask:  Ko-ko-kote kay nou? This is the equivalent of asking: Wh-wh-where is our house?

At first I assumed that this was Kreyol baby talk.  As a linguist, I learned that book and academic learning does not prepare a new language speaker for infantile constructions.  Fais do-do in French means Go sleepy bye.  You will not find this in most text books.

However, over time, we realized that Island Boy was displaying classic disfluent speech.  Hardly surprising in light of these factors:

  1. Island Boy was separated from his biological parents at a young age;
  2. IB lived in an orphanage in which people were constantly coming and going;
  3. The Major & Running Girl appeared in his life and tried to bond as parents.  But, they were always leaving after a few marvelous, fun-filled days;
  4. IB survived a 7.0 earthquake in a culture that did not really understand what caused tranbleman-de-tè yo. Thus, the people around him were prone to hysteria;
  5. IB and the others in his orphanage were forced to sleep outside under tarps because the buildings in the village were all structurally damaged.  This made them vulnerable to the elements, critters crawling around on the ground, and attacks by people who were desperate for food.  While this was occurring, the ground under him continued to move dozens of times per day as a result of aftershocks;
  6. IB was removed from the only home he ever remembered and put on a plane for the first time.  The flight made multiple stops because of a shortage of fuel; and
  7. IB suddenly entered a family he really didn’t know very well.  The attentions of his new family members (although well-intentioned) were probably overwhelming.

None of these factors take into account: Island Boy’s sudden transition from a tropical climate to a temperate zone; his brusque acquaintance with Western New York winter and snow; culture shock in terms of new food, new clothes and new sights, sounds and smells; new allergies and illnesses; and complete immersion into the English-speaking world.

However, the biggest factor may have been IB’s natural grieving process over the countless things that were lost forever to him.

In light of this matzoh ball soup of stress and anxiety factors, IB’s mild-to-medium case of disfluency was to be expected.

The good news is that, over the past year, it has been almost entirely cured.  A combination of adaptation to his new life and language, as well as the work of a professional speech therapist has helped Island Boy to eliminate stuttering.

It’s true that a little bit may creep back into his speech when he is tired or not feeling well.  He also regresses somewhat after the introduction of new things in his life.  Nevertheless, big-picture-wise, IB is now on a glide path to speech success.

When watching his favorite movies or cartoons, IB frequently repeats the dialogue uttered by the speakers word-for-word right afterward.  He’s practicing.

Little by little, the idiomatic expressions and syntactic constructions that he hears are creeping into his spoken language.  That, my friends, is a home run.

Even if he retains a little bit of disfluency in his speech, our Island Boy will be in very good company:

  • Rowan Atkinson
  • James Earl Jones
  • Julia Roberts
  • Bruce Willis
  • Hugh Grant
  • Samuel L. Jackson
  • Joe Biden
  • Winston Churchill
  • Emperor Claudius
  • Mel Tillis
  • Elvis Presley
  • Carly Simon
  • Tiger Woods
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Henry James
  • William Somerset Maugham
  • John Updike
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Aristotle
  • Charles Darwin
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Jack Welch
  • The Major

— The Major

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