The relationship between literary arts and stuttering might be considered confusing and unusual. Stuttered speech, typically considered a disability or a disorder with negative implications, results in something positive instead.
The precise definition of this speech disorder is difficult. A definition that differentiates stuttering from the lack of speech fluency associated with "normal" speech or simulated stuttering, does not seem possible. All the current definitions find convincing critics. It has not been established whether stuttering should be defined from the point of view of the stutterer or from the point of view of the observer. It is unclear if stuttering is defined relating to the act of speaking or to hearing perception.
Stuttering can be observed in the arts. This paper will explore stuttering in fiction/dramatic literature and in religious oratory.
Stuttering in fiction/dramatic literature and movies
Stuttering that appears in literature often serves a comical function. The stuttering is typically characterized by representing the characteristics of this disorder designed to produce laughter. An early example of this appears in the Italian theater. The eighteenth century author Carlo Goldoni's writing gives psychological depth to the characters and poetic value to his works. He establishes reality in many classical characters through comedy. Among them the stutterer (tartaglia), provokes laughter in the audience.
It is generally the function of stuttering to provoke laughter. Even in opera a stuttering character is sometimes used to get a comical effect. One example of this is Wenzel, in the popular opera "The Girl Friend Sold" written by Smetana, a nineteenth century Czech composer. Also, in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary,when Charles Bovary enters school, he attempts to answer the professor's question. After several fruitless attempts, the other students' laughter mocks his speech difficulties which produces even more stuttering. The result is that the readers of the story laugh at the predicament of the character who stutters. It's the same type of laughter one hears when witnessing someone falling down or stumbling or when wearing inadequate clothing. Sommerset Maugham, in his novel, Of Human Bondage, which is considered autobiographic, selects a lame character to express his personal disability of stuttering. In the novel, Philip's lameness evokes a comical effect from his school companions much the same way that Charles Bovary's stuttering does.
"El hingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha" only stuttered occasionally when his squire was angry at him.. There is a very comical scene caused not by the stuttering of Quixote, but by the interaction between the old man and his squire. It is not the speech disfluencies which cause laughter. It is the thoughtless deluge of insulting words by Sancho Panza: sly, rustic, unkempt, uncomposed and ignorant, slanderous, foul-mouthed, daredevil, gossip and forever criticizing. The stutterer's speech contrasts with the insults, demonstrating to the reader Quixote's excessive wrath.
The above are examples of "comical jokes." A phrase becomes comical if we laugh at the person who says it. There is another type of joke seen in the arts. I'll refer to as "ingenious jokes." Jokes are considered "ingenious" if we laugh about a third person or ourselves. The comical joke only needs two characters, the "ingenious joke" three. The "ingenious joke" introduce a new perspective about the matter to produce laughter.
One type of "ingenious joke", analyzed by Freud, is produced by combining words. A humble man shares the table with a great man. The funny comment made by the humble man is "I was treated famillionairely". The combination of "family" and "millonaire", expresses his skepticism of receiving any kindness from this great person. The joke would go something like this: "I was treated as familiarly as a millionaire is capable of." Sadness and skepticism are expressed in a special linguistic way by words which, when they are combined, produce laughter.
Generally, in narrative literature, stuttering is not imitated but rather is described. The comical function of stutterering remains in many cases, while introducing the dyfluencies of the stutterer in the description. There are exceptions however. In "I Claudio", stuttering disfluencies are transcribed, to create the comical effect of a Roman emperor stuttering. Claudio disguises himself to visit Sibila (oracle priestess) in order to ask her some questions, but she recognizes him. His stutter betrays him. Another example where stuttering disfluencies are transcribed is seen in a recent detective story. NAME??? In it the stutterer is not really funny. It is a poor, dark character, that stutters as he begs for charity at the door of a barbershop, which is a wonderful place to get all kinds of neighborhood gossip.
In addition to dramatic literature, movies offer many possibilities to express a comical clumsiness (one example of which is stuttering) used to make the audience laugh. We observe this in films such as "A Fish Called Wanda" produced by Charles Crichton and in "The Life Before" by Fernando Fernin Gomez.
The film, "A Fish Called Wanda" shows how the character who stutters expresses himself:
The analogy between the stuttering, the dramatic comical joke, and the movies can't be reduced to the comical clumsiness but they possess a common structure. The usual comical joke devices: repetition, investment and series interferences, typify the stuttering disfluencies. Repetition is quite common. Investment is analogous to blocking and interferences would be similar to circumlocutions. The stutterer uses circumlocutions to avoid the certain words.
Other comedic attributes -- exaggeration, automatism and rigidity -- are well known by some stutterers. Secondary characteristics often accompany stuttering, exaggerating articulatory movements. Stuttering arises without conscious thought in specific situations, phonemes, words ...etc. So automatism appears. Rigidity is observable in facial or body movements. Rigidity can also be seen in that stuttering is often impervious to remediation.
WHAT IS THIS?? The comedy turns the viewer's attention to gestures. Focusing the viewer on Tartufo's gestures, his character appears comical to us instead of simply hateful. His hypocritical and angry gestures turn out to be amusing. The automatic manifestations opposite to the act are a specific comical joke characteristic in opposition to tragedy. Similar, stuttered speech would belong to the gesture environment.
The stuttering comical joke seems to constitute a plain character, a two-dimensional character: clumsiness, automatism, gesture, imitation, etc. The third necessary dimension in the ingenious.eliminates the stuttering comicalness which then becomes a stuttering tragedy.
Stuttering and religious discourse
Stuttering in Religious discourse appears to serve the purpose of verifying that a human being is speaking the words of God, rather than his own words. Paul of Tarsus is one of the famous stutterers in religious history. His profession consisted of transmitting the word of God and this task was carried out through his writing1. In his papers he is asked about the reason God has sent him stuttering, named by Paul as a weakness of the flesh.
The Letter to the Corinthians defends his apostolic position affirming that he does not follow the laws of the flesh, but the laws of God. The conflict between "the flesh" and God is basic in his argumentation. Stuttering belongs to the flesh, but it has been sent by God. Paul is a messenger by which God transmits his law to men. He is a chosen one of God and the stuttering marks that election. Paul can instruct his contemporaries in the divine laws, helping them to discern among good things and bad things, not by himself, but by being chosen by God.
At first glance, it seems that Paul of Tarsus considers his stuttering as something to his detriment, perhaps a punishment. However, it is not exactly that. It is rather a matter of suffering sent by God to elevate Paul. Because of his weakness of the flesh Paul demonstrates without any doubt, that he does not speak by himself, but his words are God's words.
In another religious example, the Reverend Charles Kingsley was a powerful and eloquent preacher. He was a stutterer from birth. His stuttering was more noticeable in private than in public. When he spoke in public, his inflections at times turned out to be strange due to the extreme and constant concentration he used to avoid stuttering2. One evening during a conversation with a friend, the Reverend shared what he believed to be the relationship between his stuttering/timidity and how his stuttering didn't exist without being accompanied by Vanity. He explained that his stuttering was a weakness of the flesh that moderated his personal vanity produced by his personal success and his outstanding university career. Kingsley was ordained in the Episcopal Church which teaches that suffering is a fountain of theological blessing. A famous speech therapist at that time, James Hunt, worked with Reverend Kingsley obtaining very satisfying results which did not last. After a year of relative fluency the weakness of the flesh (his stuttering) returned to torment him until he died.
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