Is stuttering more common in some languages than others?
June 10, 2005 4:25 AM   Subscribe

Is stuttering more common in some languages than in others? If singing is supposed to suppress it (true?), does that mean tonal languages (e.g. Chinese) do not suffer the phenom? Indeed, are there any languages in which it does not appear at all? If so, any theories why?
posted by IndigoJones to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Stuttering in the Chinese population
Why do people who stutter not do so when they sing?

So, it does happen in tonal languages. When we sing, we use a different section of the brain than when speaking, whether the language is tonal or not.

I get the impression (from googling and hunting around the Linguist List) that not much research has been done in this area (non-English stuttering), and that it's further complicated by different cultural reactions to stuttering.
posted by heatherann at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2005

I'm not a child language or psycholinguistics specialist, but in my limited exposure to the literature on articulatory phonetics, I haven't seen any articles on higher prevalence rates of stuttering in certain languages. A quick search of linguistics & language behavior abstracts didn't turn up anything regarding prevalence, either. I haven't heard of a language in which stuttering does not occur, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Or something like that.

Another search turned up a couple articles regarding stuttering in tonal languages, including "Stuttering and Quasi-Stuttering in Ga". So yes, stuttering affects speakers of tonal languages.

(On preview, yeah, this is a pretty wide-open area. Good dissertation topic, if anyone's interested.)
posted by cog_nate at 7:37 AM on June 10, 2005

Best answer: You might want to be familiar with the word for "stuttering" in other languages, as a starting point for research.

Singing isn't the only common vehicle for fluency. Those who stutter are typically fluent when whispering, talking to themselves or to pets, or when talking over delayed feedback of their own speech (a common therapy). Reasons for fluency can be physiological, psychological, and/or neurological. (This link goes into the left/right brain activity of stutterers.)

You might also want to look at the trends for multi-lingual stutterers.
posted by Sangre Azul at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2005

I misread singing as signing which has got me wondering, is there an equivalent to stuttering in sign language? All I found in googling it was someone asking if her son's pause before signing is a stutter.
posted by teg at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2005

Response by poster: Blue Blood's links seem to head in the right direction. I particularly like the fact that the Arabic is rattat. Sounds like something out of a war comic book.

But I suspect cog_nate is correct, this is a good field for dissertation searchers.

Thank you all, it was one of those things that have piqued my thoughts on and off for years.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:24 PM on June 10, 2005

Research increasingly points to neurological causes (as Sangre mentioned); it seems psychological problems don't cause stuttering as much as previously thought, and that technology like an earpiece that replays your speech is far superior to speech therapy in cases of extreme stutterers.
posted by NickDouglas at 11:30 PM on June 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

In Yoruba, a nigerian "kwa" language which is very tonal, the God Shango is said to have stuttered, and subsequently the "secret" drum language of the Shango Religion comprises of drum strokes which mimic stuttering. It is called "ena" in Yoruba.
posted by zaelic at 1:53 AM on June 11, 2005

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