People with lisps speaking without lisping?
October 16, 2020 9:55 AM   Subscribe

So Wallace Shawn, famous lisper, can apparently turn his lisp off at will. How common is this ability?

I did not think this was even possible. I thought a lisp was for life, or if it was overcome, it was gone for good.
posted by mpark to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Well, you can lisp when you want to, can't you? Why wouldn't someone who had overcome their natural lisp be able to do the same?
posted by kindall at 9:57 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


I had a mild lisp in elementary school and went to speech therapy for several months, which got rid of it.

Speech therapy is really just about retraining habits. At first it feels unnatural to speak without a lisp, but the goal is to practice over and over until it becomes natural.

It's been so long at this point that I don't think I could recreate my original lisp, but there was definitely at least a year or so when I could speak in either manner. If I had "maintained" my lisp by occasionally practicing it, I'm sure I could still speak like that today.

Conversely, if I were to start doing reverse speech therapy on myself by practicing speaking with a lisp, that way of speaking would eventually start to feel natural again. (And not just because I used to have a lisp -- anyone could do this, in theory.) It's kind of like switching registers of formality, or switching languages as a bilingual person. You have two manners of speaking which both feel natural in different circumstances; it's just a matter of switching your brain between them.
posted by mekily at 10:21 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


He's an actor! Being able to turn off your lisp is no more challenging than being able to mimic another accent. Or think of it like changing your posture for a role: you might naturally slouch, but if you were playing a very stalwart character you might have a particular bearing that you switch into while "on." Like an accent, a lisp is a habit; mostly, if you can't turn it off it's either because you don't know how to position your mouth the right way (like many people when trying to mimic accents) or because you haven't noticed you're doing it. (Anecdotally, a lot of adults I know who lisp didn't realize it until they heard themselves recorded.) I was trained out of my lisp as a child and so I'm not sure I know how to switch back, but I'm also not a highly-trained vocal practitioner. I think it's quite likely that he learned to turn off the lisp as an adult for roles but relaxes back into it when not working.
posted by babelfish at 10:28 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


It's been so long at this point that I don't think I could recreate my original lisp, but there was definitely at least a year or so when I could speak in either manner. If I had "maintained" my lisp by occasionally practicing it, I'm sure I could still speak like that today.

Same. (Thame.) I did speech therapy in elementary school for my lisp and it was almost entirely a manner of just remembering to put my tongue in a different place when I made S sounds - I wasn't curving it up enough, I was touching my front teeth with the tip instead of the roof of my mouth. Speech therapy was essentially 1. learning where the tongue should go and 2. practicing a lot.

I just tried to replicate the lisp and I can definitely still do it with individual words, but I lose the thread of it if I try a full sentence. I'm sure if I practiced I could get it back - I just have no reason to.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:09 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I was just explaining to my boyfriend how I was in speech therapy for a lisp in elementary school. Even today, thirty years later, if I start to force a lisp, my tongue automatically will want to keep it up, and it takes a few moments to consciously make the lisp go away.
posted by umwhat at 12:12 PM on October 16


People modulate their ways of speaking all the time, even unconsciously. Code switching includes all manner of shifts like this. In my case, growing up gay in the rural south in the 80s taught me *real quick* that my voice was what was giving away the gambit. I was so young that I don't have memories of doing this beyond the hazy notion of deepening my register and imitating the speech of macho dudes, but it sure as hell stuck. Now I think of my "new" voice as my natural voice, but I can slip in and out of various accents that are stereotyped as gay (which some people categorize into sibilant lisps). I also don't really have my southern accent anymore unless I'm around family and/or very drunk. Speech is a funny thing in that it's tied to identity but also endlessly mutable. I feel a sense of regret for people who don't get to grow up comfortable and safe enough to just... sound how they sound, but, then again, I suppose the stress and pressure to modify ways of speaking are how we get polyglots and really good actors.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:55 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]


The spittle-flecked lisps of Daffy Duck and Sylvester Cat, vs. Martian Marvin's almost overpronounced 's'-ness were all voiced by Mel Blanc.

At its most cliche, a lisp is just a matter of where you touch your tongue to your palate and to your teeth when you pronounce 's'. Or where you can easily do so if you are sufficiently frenulum-challenged, for example.

See Wallace Shawn speak (IMO) relatively lisp-free in this clip. It's eminently conceivable.
posted by Quesaak at 4:11 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


....Just mentioning the possibility that maybe it's the other way round - that he doesn't have a lisp and has just adopted one for a number of his roles.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 PM on October 16


Thanks everyone!
posted by mpark at 5:00 PM on October 16


I had a lisp that years of speech therapy trained me out of. Not only can I turn it on at will, but it is excruciatingly plain to me when someone without a natural lisp mimicks one, because they don’t ever seem to put the “th’s” in the right places. So, I can turn it on and hear it.
posted by djinn dandy at 7:34 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


....Just mentioning the possibility that maybe it's the other way round - that he doesn't have a lisp and has just adopted one for a number of his roles.

I don't know whether you are referring to Mel Blanc or not but many of the Warner Brothers cartoon characters he voiced seemed to have one speech defect or another -- think Porky Pig, for example. Which was something I noticed when young.
posted by y2karl at 10:29 AM on October 17


I don't know whether you are referring to Mel Blanc or not

I....wasn't, since this AskMe is about Wallace Shawn.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on October 17


Well, d'oh. If not duh.
posted by y2karl at 9:30 AM on October 20


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