Jon Horne puts forward the case for social media being a positive way for people who stammer to express themselves.
If I could speak fluently, I would…
Well, what would I do?
Sometimes I imagine myself an erudite public speaker - a campaigner, an entertainer, a Master Of Ceremonies. I imagine holding a crowd in the palm of my hand, calmly laying out my argument, pausing… making eye contact before making my point. Perhaps I would lighten the mood with a self-mocking aside, meet the audience’s gentle laughter with a smile, and then do the whole thing again.
But what are the chances? Most fluent speakers can’t do it. Put almost anyone in the spotlight and they mumble, cough, speak too fast to be understood, fret, forget the words and, in their own rather different way, stammer.
For me, the best places to hold court with a small group of people...are Facebook and Twitter.
I’m setting my sights lower for my fantasy of fluent speech. My friend Graham can’t work a room, but around a table he holds forth confidently, spinning out anecdotes and firing off opinions (usually the opposite of mine) on any subject you like, with a reckless lack of consideration. In a crowd of four, five, six people, friends and strangers alike, Graham is in his element: angry, generous and magnetic; a storyteller, an addled philosopher.
I’d settle for that. I don’t have Graham’s desire to persuade; I communicate better with jokes, sometimes to make a point, mostly because that’s what comes into my head. The trouble with humour, for me and possibly you, is that the secret of a good joke is t…
Basic politeness means that you are honour-bound to wait for me to finish, to listen to the content of what I am saying, rather than the delivery - but you’re not interested in what I’m saying any more, because humour…
…really does depend on timing, and my stammer kills it. If yours doesn’t, I’m pleased for you.
So where can I be fluent, cogent and able to crack wise without the joke drying up in the parched landscape of my speech? Mostly it means being in a situation where I don’t have to speak. For me, the best places to hold court with a small group of people, some of whom I barely know; to argue with them, entertain them, amuse them as if around the table in a pub, are Facebook and Twitter.
Chat, banter, gossip and showing off are a necessary part of any social life, and if our speech takes them away from us, social media gives them back.
I should say that social media is a good resource for stammerers. Stammerers’ groups have set up Facebook pages, as have Speech and Language Therapists. I’m sure there’s a list on this website (Ed: there is indeed - click here to find it). The BSA’s Twitter feed (@stammer) is a valuable signpost for news and articles relating to stammering, and there are many more advocacy groups doing similar things, locally, regionally and internationally. The BSA‘s followers list includes over four thousand other stammerers, partners of stammerers, parents of stammerers, therapists and other interested parties. Some people, such as Abed Ahmed (@stammer_teacher), have become personal advocates for stammerers, and refer to stammering in their posts and tweets. It is refreshing to read. I recommend it.
However, this piece is about social media as an escape, a break from having to choose between the pressure of conventional conversation and the isolation of silence. For those with verbal communication difficulties, time spent tweeting and posting is not wasted. Chat, banter, gossip and showing off are a necessary part of any social life, and if our speech takes them away from us, social media gives them back.
Social media is not a safe space, it is a public space. I am proposing allowing ourselves a metaphorical night out in the pub. The conversation might get edgy, awkward. As with any pub, there are going to be people whom you need to avoid. Nonetheless it is the ideal forum for the joke that would have fallen flat because of your stammer, for the opinion that it would be too strenuous to have to justify, because of your stammer; for any kind of communication that is, in the real world, denied us.
I am not for a moment suggesting that we retreat into the virtual world, undoing the work that stammerers have done in encouraging ourselves and each other to speak in public and private. We should all be accepting of ours and each other’s stammers; we should not hide away from speaking, and not tolerate any behaviour from others that silences us - but everyone needs a break. Workers need holidays; carers need respite. Casual speaking in casual settings is harder for stammerers than for most people, so whilst we should feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway, we should also give ourselves a rest sometimes. It’s good to talk, and sometimes it’s good to tweet.
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