About the presenter: Jianliang (Albert) Zhang was born in Wuxi, China. He is currently a doctoral candidate at East Carolina University, NC, USA. His research interests include mainly stuttering and multicultural issues. He helped to found the Shanghai Stuttering Association, and has worked for the International Stuttering Association as the editor of One Voice for 5 years. He loves reading, writing, go chess, hiking, travelling, etc.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

A world that understands stuttering

by Jianliang (Albert) Zhang
from China

Cultural variation in how people perceive and understand stuttering, and treat people who stutter (PWS), is an interesting issue to consider. Through anecdotes and a limited number of studies, we know that Africans are more likely to believe in mythical etiology of stuttering, Asians tend to blame PWS for not being able to speak normally, whereas Caucasians will consult speech language pathologists for stuttering.

With my personal experience, I have found these cultural variations quite interesting. Growing up in China, I learned from early age that I'd better hide my stuttering - pretend to be unknowledgeable, or have a bad memory, but not make abnormal utterances, or show the struggles, because people will laugh at me. Therefore, in 2004, when for the first time I went abroad and saw hundreds of Western PWS at Perth, Australia, I was totally unprepared to see that there are places where one can stutter openly and freely, without worrying about being interrupted, mocked, mimicked, scolded, and stigmatized. I could not stop thinking that, for many PWS that live in China, how their lives could be changed if the society had a better understanding and tolerance of stuttering. I know my life would have been much easier. However, China might be a safer place to live than Uganda, where, reportedly, children could be killed because of stuttering (Irwin, 2005).

But there are things that have intrigued me. For example, in America, it is evident that autism and attention deficit have received more discussions in public media than stuttering. At least I know autism effects 1 child in 150, much smaller than 1 in 20 for stuttering. Also, I see that there are numerous stuttering prank phone calls in youtube.com, and, to my amaze, people think they are very funny. The United States currently is obsessed with political correctness, so how come PWS can still be publically humiliated? And this is America. I know things are worse in China, and probably not any better in some African countries.

Because of the omnipresence of the internet, discriminations against PWS in youtube.com need to be fought back with PWS from everywhere. We may be divided by oceans, but we are united on the web. We may have specific goals to conquer in our own society, but there are universal goals that we need to achieve together. Writing in English may not be perfect for a lot of us, but that can still be powerful in delivering ideas and emotions, just like our tangled tongue. We are seeking universal acceptance of stuttering, we are working to make this world "a world that understands stuttering." In this sense, the various voices from us, though separated physically, culturally, and linguistically, are actually just one voice.

Therefore, there is One Voice. It is the newsletter of the International Stuttering Association (ISA). Currently, it is published semi-annually online, usually incorporating the ELSA (European League of Stuttering Association) newsletter. Its previous issues can be retrieved at the websites of ISA (http://www.stutterISA.org/) and ELSA (http://www.stuttering.ws/). The latest issue of One Voice is also included HERE. The unique feature of One Voice is that its contributors are from various countries. Their topics cover recent activities of their national self-help group, international affairs, and personal experiences and ideas about stuttering.


Irwin, M. (2005). African conference and international speech project. One Voice, 20, 1-2.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

SUBMITTED: August 2, 2009
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