Stuttering: Why Do People Do It?

Welcome back to another Amaze-ing Words Wednesday! With all of my fascination about words and language, I find it curious that some people who know their native language quite well just can’t seem to get the words out sometimes.

Why do some people stutter?

As it turns out, many young children stutter. It is common for children when learning language to stumble over words or the beginnings of words as they form thoughts and move them into speech. However, for most kids, stuttering goes away around elementary age. A few continue to stutter into adulthood, ranging from mild tripping of the speech to genuine difficulty in communicating with others.

Some interesting information about stuttering:

  • About 10% of people stutter at some time in their life, but the overall incidence of stutterers at any given time is 1/2 to 1% of the population.
  • Stuttering is more common among boys than girls, by about 4 to 1.
  • About 60% of those who stutter have a close family member who stutters.
  • Brain studies suggest that stutterers have atypical asymmetry in those specific regions that mediate speech, language and motor functions.
  • Stutterers typically don’t have difficulties with the flow of words when they sing.

Challenges with stuttering haven’t prevented plenty of people from finding success in occupations that relate to language. For example, the following celebrities have been identified as stutterers at one time or another:

Nicholas Brendon (actor)
Lewis Caroll (author)
Winston Churchill (prime minister)
Hugh Grant (actor)
Samuel L. Jackson (actor)
Henry James (author)
James Earl Jones (actor)
Harvey Keitel (actor)
William Somerset Maugham (author)
Kiley Minogue (singer)
Marilyn Monroe (actress)
Elvis Presley (singer)
Carly Simon (singer)
Jimmy Stewart (actor)
John Stossel (journalist)
Mel Tillis (singer)
John Updike (author)
Bruce Willis (actor)

The case of stuttering was particularly brought to light with the movie The King’s Speech, chronicling the speech therapy King George VI underwent to prepare for a radio address to the country. His problem was severe, but he was given the task by birth of communicating to the British people at a crucial moment in the nation’s history.

Thankfully, most of us won’t be required to deliver a speech to a whole nation. However, it can still be challenging for stutterers to communicate in social settings. I found a few tips for those who come across people who stutter in conversation:

  • Be patient. The stutterer may take more time, but just like everyone else, they know what they want to say.
  • Don’t tell the stutterer to slow down or take a breath. The problem is not speed of speech, and it can be off-putting to draw attention to the stuttering.
  • Fight the temptation to complete the sentence for the stutterer. Give them the same courtesy you would give others, and let them finish.
  • Note that stuttering often increases when communication occurs by phone. Allow more time in that situation.
  • Speak clearly at a natural but unhurried pace.

And for those who do stutter, studies show that stutterers tend to desire an improvement in their fluency over being left alone about it. If that is true of you, speech therapy can be helpful in addressing this language anomaly.

Have you ever experienced difficulty with stuttering? Do you have a family member or friend who stutters? How do handle stuttering?

Sources: Children’s Hospital Colorado; University of Iowa; Listverse; The Stuttering Foundation; National Stuttering Foundation