23rd October 2020
As our campaign about changing negative language around stammering draws to a close, Patrick Campbell argues for building upon it and introducing new language, to change public attitudes and perceptions.
The Find The Right Words campaign is asking us to change our language around stammering. To stop with the 'plagued', 'afflicted' and 'overcomes' of this world, and replace them with more neutral, objective language: 'live with', 'manage' and 'control'. This progress is important. However, I wonder if we could, as a stammering community, go a little further.
Language evolves over time. A part of this is forgetting old words that no longer hold much use but another important part is the creation of new words.
To move past seeing stammering as a taken-for-granted negative, we need to push new language that encourages seeing stammering as a different and respectable way of speaking, as much as remove the ableist language of the past.
If we look to the great social movements of our recent history, we can see that their rise has been as predicated on creating new language as moving away from the old. For example, the progress of feminism has been coupled with introducing terms such as 'gaslighting' and 'mansplaining' into our common usage. So too, the trans rights movement has brought 'cis', 'trans' and 'binary' as well as pronouns such as 'they' instead of 'him' or 'her' into the modern conscious.
These movements haven't just challenged the old sexist, transphobic language of the past but they've also set the groundwork for a new, empowering language of the future.
Can we do the second part for stammering too? Can we create a new language of stammering?
Four years ago, I wrote a blog post called 'Fluent made language'. In it I wrote about the words I disliked being talked about in regards to stammering (tl;dr, mostly how much I hate 'OVERCOME'). In this article, I want to talk about some words I'd like to see take flight and enter the common discourse.
The first time I came across this term was in an article by Chris Constantino. It's borrowed from the deaf community's concept of 'deaf gain'. Stammering gains are the unique positives that stammering brings to our lives. Chris argues that stammering allows him to be vulnerable and intimate in ways that fluent people cannot be in conversation. For me, stammering has brought community, friendship and allyship. For you, stammering might have brought something else. But, hopefully, having the word 'stammering gain' in our dictionary will help bring those positives stammering can bring to mind.
Researcher Kaitlin Naughten used this term in a recent article about her experiences of speaking with a stammer; I love it. Our world is set up in the expectation of being fluent, much like it is for being white or male. If people happen to have the characteristic of fluency, they can navigate the world on a day-to-day basis without a second thought for the difficulties others who are not fluent may experience. This is fluent privilege; it may be difficult for fluent people to recognise it because of its ubiquity in their lives. By naming this privilege, we can better draw attention to it.
This word has been around a while but I wish people who stammer would begin to harness it. The term ableism comes from the disability rights movement. Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. When society is being set up in a way which disadvantages people who stammer (eg, oral presentations marked on fluency, time-limited job interviews, voice-automated telephone systems), that is ableism. Ableism is the name we can put to the discrimination we face for speaking with our natural stammered voices in a society geared towards fluency. We should use it.
The inimitable stammering comedian Nina G came up with this one. Stammersplaining happens when someone who has never experienced stammering decides to lecture about it to someone who stammers. You know, that university lecturer who suggests you 'take deep breaths before speaking' – like you’ve never thought about breathing before and that's the magic fix you’ve been waiting all your life for. Or, the uncle who remembers how his mate Paul overcame his stammer by drinking eight pints of bitter from an elephant's tusk. We need a name for this all too common, well-meaning but soul-destroying experience.
"The stammering aesthetic is an aspect of the person you may witness when you meet them face to face, but one which is never shown still on a photograph. And yet, it is often an important part of their identity." Alda Villiljós, Sigríður Fossberg Thorlacius, Sveinn Snær Kristjánsson and the National Stuttering Association of Iceland used these words to describe their wonderful photo project capturing the moment of stammering in portrait photographs. Stammering aesthetic is a lovely turn of phrase. It opens up the opportunity for the moment of stammering to be of beauty and wonder rather than something we would rather not have seen.
The words we use around stammering shape our own experience and views on stammering. To move past seeing stammering as a taken-for-granted negative, we need to push new language that encourages seeing stammering as a different and respectable way of speaking, as much as remove the ableist language of the past.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
Patrick is the co-editor of the book 'Stammering Pride & Prejdice: Difference not Defect. Read more from Patrick with his articles 'What if we fight for our right to stammer?', 'Stammering as weight' and 'The origins of Stammering Pride & Prejudice'.
What do you think? If you agree or disagree with Patrick and you'd like to write an article for the site, click here to find out how.