Thursday, February 11, 2010
Stuttering Talk Makes My Head Explode!
I've taken the following paragraph from Straight Talk on Stuttering, by Lloyd M. Hulit. Please read it, and then I'll comment on it.
"Wendell Johnson popularized what is called the Anticipatory Struggle Hypothesis, which hypothesizes that the stutter stutters because he anticipates that he will have difficulty saying a particular word, and he tries very hard not to fail, as he believes he will. The struggle not to stutter results in the behaviors we recognize as stuttering. In trying to explain why anticipation is not perfect and why some stutterers seem not to anticipate at all, Johnson and others have suggested that anticipation may sometimes operate at a very low level of consciousness. That is, the stutterer might anticipate without being aware that he is anticipating. While this may seem a specious argument to some, I find it convincing. I suspect we have all experienced situations in which we think we are feeling little or no anxiety about something we must do, only to find ourselves relieved when the doing is completed. The relief is evidence of the anxiety we felt, anxiety we did not know we had. I am convinced, based on my own stuttering experiences and on the experiences of my clients, that stutters often anticipate when they are not acutely aware they are anticipating. One only needs to look at the stutterer's face to see signs of anticipation, signs that often appear before words are spoken. Eyes widen. Lips become rigid. Breathing stops. Whether or not the imperfections between anticipations and stuttering can be explained to every one's satisfaction, the Anticipatory Struggle Hypothesis is widely accepted as an explanation for why certain words are stuttered more often that others" (p. 41).
Sometimes, don't you feel like your head is just exploding? I do. Dr Hulit, Ph.D., is a fan of the late Wendell Johnson. In this case, he cites Johnson's proposal for the cause of stuttering. Johnson believed that stuttering wasn't stuttering until parents - and others - called it stuttering. That is, stuttering begins when parents misdiagnose their children's normal disfluency as deviant, thus provoking anxiety in the child, and setting off a chain of results that become persistent adult stuttering as we know it.
Johnson's Anticipatory Struggle Hypothesis, like any such general hypothesis of cause, has to explain all of our observations about the phenomenon. That is, the proposal has to be consistent with what we know for sure - it can't conflict with solid evidence. In this case, all agree that in many cases, stutterers do stutter exactly on words they fear, or when speaking to an authority figure, or when required to speak their names. All of this behavior is consistent with the anticipatory struggle hypothesis - the stutterer knows what is coming, and has opportunity to become anxious, and the anxiety can trigger the stuttering exactly as feared.
It is also known that many stutterers do not stutter when alone, or talking to pets, or in other situations in which there is no performance anxiety to trigger struggle behavior. This, too, supports Johnson's hypothesis. However.... there are problems. As Hultit acknowledges above, there are times when stutterers stutter in spite of no evidence of anticipation. Or as Hulit puts it, anticipation is "not perfect." Hulit cites Johnson and others proposal that "the stutterer might anticipate without being aware that he is anticipating."
This is where my head explodes!
There follows a twisting, backbreaking attempt to save the hypothesis. First, the word "anticipate" is redefined. The conscious experience of anticipation, which is the whole justification for the hypothesis, now works on a subconscious level. No evidence is presented to support such a suggestion, just rhetorical arm-flapping.
"I suspect we have all experienced situations in which we think we are feeling little or no anxiety about something we must do, only to find ourselves relieved when the doing is completed."
Actually, no. I don't know what he's talking about.
"One only needs to look at the stutterer's face to see signs of anticipation, signs that often appear before words are spoken. Eyes widen. Lips become rigid. Breathing stops."
Of course the signs often appear before words are spoken - the poor soul is anticipating - consciously!
"Whether or not the imperfections between anticipations and stuttering can be explained to everyone's satisfaction, the Anticipatory Struggle Hypothesis is widely accepted as an explanation for why certain words are stuttered more often that others"
First, we're not talking about "imperfections," It is a demonstrable fact that stuttering can and does occur when there is no opportunity or evidence for anticipation. Any general hypothesis for stuttering has to account for all the evidence, not just some of it. Second, widely accepted by whom? Is this an appeal to authority? Don't tell me that someone accepts it - prove it to me. Third, now the hypothesis is for why "certain words are stuttered more often that others." When the hell did a general hypothesis for stuttering become limited to "certain words?"
The worst part of the entire effort is this:
"While this may seem a specious argument to some, I find it convincing."
In other words, he knows exactly what he's doing, but he does it anyway. This was the precise point my head exploded. So you know what you're saying has no basis, but you're sticking with it? No doubt, I am not the first to make this point. I'm sure that Hulit acknowledges the obvious flaw in the hypothesis because it was pointed out by other long ago.
When students enter graduate school in the sciences, many are asked to read classic essays on the practice of science. One of these classics warms against falling in love with a favored hypothesis. Instead of developing - or learning - a favored explanation and defending it to the last, you are admonished to always be ready to allow the evidence to change your mind. There's a seductive danger in signing on to a particular hypothesis - once you invest yourself it its truth, it can be very difficult to say those three scary words - I - was - wrong. All evidence against the favored hypothesis is denied or explained away - like non-anticipated anticipation. Luckily for me, every time my head explodes, the pieces return to their proper place and I can return to thinking the next day.