Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The curious case of the recidivist stammerer

Although I don't have a stutter, I found myself identifying with a lot of things I learned while writing our new section on Stammering.

David Seidler, the writer of the Oscar-winning film The Kings Speech which deals with King George VI's stammer, says that he took up writing because his own stammer made speaking such a nightmare. I too am writer in part because I hate public speaking. I've sat through innumerable meetings, classes and conferences without uttering a word. Shortly before I went freelance, my voluntary sector employers organised a senior staff 'away-day' at which we were all to make a presentation. I nearly passed out after mine having forgotten to breathe. I realised that any career that involved presentations - Powerpoint was just beginning its ascent - and chairing meetings was not for me.

My interview with Donald, a retired actuary, revealed, as he puts it, what a 'curious' condition stammering is. Donald stammered as a child, spoke fluently at work and then started stammering again when he retired to France. I too speak French very poorly for someone who has spent so much time there and get more tongue-tied the more people there are in the room. Donald says he suddenly becomes fluent if he's interested in the subject and I have noticed how much easier it is to discuss le foot and l'incroyable Garett Bile (French for Gareth Bale) than the latest trial (or not) of Jacques Chirac.

The head of the British Stammering Association Norbert Lieckfeldt told me 'there is no cultural element to stammering, and very little difference between nations, ethnic groups and cultures' but when I see the confidence with which some of today's children express themselves, I wonder. Yes, it may be a pain listening to interminable stories about their over-indulged classmates or ill-informed opinions on your clothes, haircut or gay taste in music but you have to be impressed by their stamina. They do it without hesitation, repetition or deviation and for far more than just a minute. Is stammering a condition that will die out with the stiff upper lip?

No comments: