Folk Myths About Stuttering
Hooper (ASHA, 38(1), 43-45, 1996) reminds clinicians of the importance of identifying and understanding the client's belief system as they relate to the condition being treated. Although the article is about older adults, the same underlying philosophy is important when working with person from other cultures. In his text,
Stuttering Intervention: a collaborative journey to fluency freedom, Shapiro reminds the reader of the need for cultural sensitivity as it relates to views about etiology. Summarizing Leith's work, Shapiro states (p. 174) "If a family views stuttering as a curse or a God-given condition, treatment will need to account for such beliefs. Otherwise, clinicians inadvertently could challenge clients to decide between clinician's advice and personal beliefs."
The following is a section of "folk myths" related to the origin or treatment of stuttering. They are gleaned from various places and your submissions are also welcome. I found three of the references personally very interesting. My mother always told my brother to stop tickling me because it would make me stutter. My great-grandfather's brother had some sort of disability (nobody remembers for sure, but it may have been cerebral palsy) supposedly because his mother was gardening and a snake scared her by wrapping itself around her foot when she was pregnant. And in 1988 I attended a parent conference where one person volunteered that she had heard they way to cure stuttering was to "whap" the child across the mouth with a greasy dishrag. Some of these "folk myths" may be part of the belief system of some people who stutter, or parents of children who are disfluent, and we need to be aware of them.
African American Myths Regarding Stuttering
(From Appendix A, Robinson, T.L. Jr. and Crowe, T.A., (1998) Culture-Based Considerations in Programming for Stuttering Intervention with African American Clients and Their Families, LSHSS, Volume 29, p. 172-179)
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- The mother eating improper foods when breast feeding the infant.
- Allowing an infant to look in the mirror.
- Tickling the child too much.
- Cutting the child's hair before he/she says his/her first words.
- The mother seeing a snake during pregnancy
- The mother dropping a baby.
- The child being scared as a baby.
- The child being bitten by a dog
- The work of the devil.
- Stuttering is something that can be controlled by the child
- Stuttering can be controlled by telling the child not to move his/her feet when talking
- Stuttering can be cured by hitting the child in the mouth with a dish towel
- Stuttering can be cured by having the child hold nutmeg under his/her tongue.
South Africa - "traditional beliefs" about stuttering
Summary of Traditional Beliefs about Stuttering gathered from the multicultural clinic located at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW), Kwa Zulu, Natal, South Africa.. (In Kathard, Harsha (1998) Issues of culture and stuttering: A South African Perspective, International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference, http://www.mnsu.edu/dept/comdis/isad/papers/kathard.html
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- Baby left out in the rain
- Failure to inform ancestors of imminent childbirth
- emotional trauma
- Tickling the baby too much
- Karma (Indian)
- Child has a short tongue
- Apply ointment on throat
- Prayer/priest (Indian/African)
- Stand in front of the mirror and speak to yourself
- Person who stutters must eat a fruit that has been pecked by a bird
- Correct posture
African "traditional beliefs" about stuttering
The following traditional beliefs are extracted from papers submitted for International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conferences: Stuttering in Burkina Faso, West Africa by Moussa Dao ISAD 2002; Some Past Stories On Prevention And Cause Of Stammering In The Nso Land In Cameroon by Jonas Berinyuy, from Cameroon, Africa, ISAD 2002; Stuttering In The Lukong Family. Is It Natural Or A Curse From The Gods? by Joseph Lukong
from Cameroon, Africa, ISAD 2002; Ideas In Our Country, Culture, Family About What Causes Stuttering And What Should Be Done About It,
by Acheng Moungui Thomas from Cameroon, Africa, ISAD 2002, and ISAD 2015 My History by Zan Camara. In his introduction, Dr. Dao stated, "In my country the cause of this speech problem and its treatment are deeply rooted in "folk ideas." These African folk ideas about the treatment for stuttering come from personal experience, from the experience of other people who stutter or from people having attended the treatment of relatives. Even if some of these ideas tend to disappear in the larger cities, in many villages because of illiteracy, ignorance and absence of treatment possibilities, these ideas, some of them potentially harmful, will continue to persist for a long time."
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- Threats - According to a very widespread idea in Africa, children's stuttering is caused by imitation of adults' stuttering. To correct this evil, it is necessary to threaten children when they try to imitate an adult or when they stutter. In my own case, some persons think that my stuttering was caused by imitating my brother's stuttering. They now think that if I had been threatened I would be cured. At present I have nephews who stutter and some in my family believe that the best method to treat their stuttering is with threats. (Dao)
- From March 28th to April 6th , the International African Traditional Healers (ATHs) meeting (SIRENA) was held in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. When asked about the causes of stuttering, we got these answers (Dao):
- For 2 , stuttering is caused by not cutting the membrane which joins the base of tongue to the mouth during childhood
- For 2, stuttering is caused by imitation of adult's stuttering by children
- For 4, the cause of stuttering is heredity
- For 1, stuttering is caused by disease (mainly meningitis)
- For 1, stuttering is caused by a "curse."
- Grasshoppers - It was believed stammering in young children was due to eating grasshoppers. Parents were advised to make sure that children from 0 - 2 years did not eat grasshoppers. During one period (in 1912) many births suffered from stammering, It was discovered that many children who took care of their baby brothers and sisters when everyone had gone to farm, spent a great deal of their time hunting grasshoppers in the little bushes around the compound. They both ate them and fed them to the babies. (Berinyuy)
- "The first legend associated with stuttering in our family is that it was a mystical and magic curse inflicted on my grandmother by the one of her maids. . . [who] cursed her using her magical powers that she was going to give birth to 'abnormal children'." (Lukong)
- The second legend - "my grandfather as landlord of a large piece of land in our village, allocated a certain piece of that land to my grandmother for farming. This was a very fertile piece of land that was reserved only for traditional sacrifices. It is then believed that the gods of our land got very annoyed by this and cursed the children of my grandmother by turning them into stutterers. (Lukong)
- "Upper Ngemba" people in the southwestern part of Cameroon believe that if the "god of the Tongues" is offended, their children could be afflicted with stuttering, for making the god angry. Once the god is angry, there is nothing that can appease him. The curse from this particular god has the potential to affect the continual family chain.
- A Magical Curse - In Africa and Cameroon in particular, most believe that some people have supernatural powers. They are called witches and wizards. Sometimes because of hatred, jealousy, differences, love, power and other social issues a witch or wizard can decide to destroy your off-spring by rendering them stutterers. (Thomas)
- The Environment - It is believed by some Cameroonians that the type of environment your child gets used to can affect him in one-way or the other. For instance in a peer group where one member is a stutterer it can easily affect the others because they will try to mimic him. (Thomas)
- Song - This idea is widespread in medium SENOUFO (an ethnic group of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali). According to this idea, song is a method to treat stuttering. Children who stutter are asked to sing songs that account tales, mainly in public, around a wood fire or during rites of initiation. (Dao)
- Water from Canaries - A canary is a type of jar used for carrying water. This idea is from the center of Burkina According to this idea, stutterers must avoid drinking the water from the bottom of a canary if that water has been in the canary for several days. It is believed this will enable them to avoid an aggravation of their stuttering (Dao)
- Snail's shell - This idea spread from the Ivory Coast (West Africa). According to this idea, a stutterer must use a snail's shell exclusively as the container for drinking water during several months. It is believed this will reduce or cure stuttering (Dao
- Cutting the membrane (lingua frenum) beneath the tongue - This idea is widespread throughout all Burkina Faso and also in some other countries of West Africa. With the birth, in the mouth of children, there is a membrane connecting the base of the tongue to the mouth. In certain children, this membrane disturbs the mobility of the tongue which, it is believed, is involved in the appearance of stuttering. Treatment is to cut this membrane when children begin to stutter. (Dao
- Owl's nest - This treatment idea is used in the western part of Burkina. It consists of grinding a nest of an owl and collecting the powder in a container. This powder is then included, a little bit at a time, in a breakfast porridge. (Dao)
- Heat - This treatment is also used in the western part of Burkina. It consists of heating a metal tool or a knife, letting it cool slightly and then briefly applying it several times to the lips of a child who stutters. A lady told me her little brother's misadventure with this treatment strategy. Their mother, very concerned with the gravity of the stuttering of her child, determined to apply this method. The child suffered greatly and still carries the scars of this treatment on his lips. (Dao)
- From March 28th to April 6th , the International African Traditional Healers (ATHs) meeting (SIRENA) was held in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. When asked about the treatment for stuttering, we got these answers (Dao):
- 2 claimed to have a remedy for stuttering, which they said is the root of one specific plant that must be used as a drink or the mixture of juice from leaf of specific plant and honey, used as a drink.
- Adult stammerers were advised to eat a certain green grasshopper called "kimem". (Berinyuy)
- Dowries - My brother and I stammered severely at very young age. After consulting a handful of fortunetellers, it became clear to our parents that our stammering was a curse from the gods of my mother's compound. The gods became angry that my mother's dowry was only partially paid. (Berinyuy)
- Herbal treatments - The Nso tribe is well known in the field of traditional medicines in Cameroon. It is said that the following traditional herbs -- kighavir, ghay kiyon, Maro-oh, ghan kidzem with the lungs of the cow (boofu) boiled together with palm wine helped a great deal to improve stammering in children. The combination of the medicines was renewed every two weeks. This therapy was difficult because a complete dose was taken for one year by drinking this mixture from a calabash every morning and before sunset. (A Calabash is a container made from ta vegetable plant mostly found in the tropics called pumkin. Some are round in shape. The inner part is removed and the skin is shaped with an opening like a bowl.) (Berinyuy)
- Many traditional sacrifices were offered by my grandfather and other members of my family. Palm wine, hens, goats and other articles were sacrificed to wipe away the curse. (Lukong)
- The first method that my elder brother and I went through ourselves was prescribed by one traditional herbalist in our locality. This consisted of drinking a yellowish liquid substance that comes from the roots of the rafia palm. This liquid has a kind of grayish layer on top indicating the presence of some rusted iron. This liquid is drunk every day at sunrise and at sunset for an uninterrupted period of six months. (Lukong)
- Another traditional herbalist treatment consisted of squeezing the leaves of the cola nut trees to get a yellowish liquid This liquid is inserted to our head through the nostril while we lie down. In the evenings the outer layer of the cola nut seeds are burnt in a small hut constructed with bamboos and mud with no windows. The smoke from the burnt seeds are inhaled through our mouth and nose. (Lukong)
- Another form of treatment which we would use in our family consisted of eating a greenish insect called KIBEM. (Lukong)
- Another method of treatment consisted of drinking water from the shell of the snail that our cousin had brought from the coastal resort town of Victoria (Limbe) in the South west province of Cameroon. We drank water from this object for a period of 2 months. (Lukong)
- Drink "Sea Water" which is salty. - Consistently drink water from a "Snail shell" for the rest of your life. drink water from the "shoot of a fresh spring" (a new fountain of spring water that has just been discovered). (Thomas)
- Rubbing elephant dung into carefully-placed cuts around the tongue and mouth. (Lukong)
- I used many remedies to try to stop stuttering. I used traditional local practices which included: a slap with a shoe, drinking water, washing utensils, drinking a combination of traditional plants, throwing eggs on my face when I started to stutter. Despite all attempts at treatment, nothing changed and my stuttering persisted.
China - "traditional beliefs" about stuttering
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- Professor Shengli Li, in a presentation at the ISA World Conference in Ghent, Belgium, June 2001 stated that some of the older people in China believe the way to cure stuttering is to "hit a stutterer's face when the weather is cloudy."
- Albert Zhang from Shanghai, China, wrote in an article for the 2004 ISAD online conference (http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/isadcon7.html), entitled Her Child Stutters and she became a pyromaniac (a href="http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad7/papers/zhang7.html"). He reports about his own experience, "On rainy days when I stuttered she would slap my face really hard, which is a belief and practice of many, many Chinese." He states that, "Approximately 5 medical treatments, primarily Chinese herbs, are said to be effective to treat stuttering." The article also reports the recent incident in central China:
On Nov. 5, 2003, Xinhua Online (sponsored by Xinhua news agency, China's largest news agency) reported that a mother wanted to set 100 fires to help cure her child from stuttering, and finally was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment. Mrs. Zhao, whose child stutters, lives in Tongxu County, Henan province, mid-land China. As she could not find help from hospitals for her stuttering child, she went to a fortuneteller, and was told as soon as she finished setting 100 fires, her child would become fluent. Hence, starting in October of 2002, she began to set fire to her neighbors' straw in the open fields. More than 20 fires were set before she was caught by the scared and angry villagers. In court, she showed great repentance and regret.
Mexico - "traditional beliefs" about stuttering
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
European "traditional beliefs" about stuttering
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- Dave Halvorsen posted on stutt-l, "I came across something interesting yesterday while reading. Seems there is an old Icelandic superstition that if a pregnant woman drinks from a cracked cup the child will be born with a stutter."
- Anita Blom from Sweden shared (September 1, 1998)
I have an old book with "home cures" and even stuttering is listed: the first week you have to be quiet, than you can whisper, whisper louder, until you speak aloud and see: stuttering is cured! This is not a method for me, for I can't shut up that long...... :-)
- Lou Heite posted on stutt-l that in Iceland there is an old superstition that if you want a baby to become an eloquent speaker, you should bury the hyoid bone of a lamb in the wall of the house. (That was not difficult as the houses were mostly built of turf.)
The hyoid bone is a horseshoe-shaped bone that floats above the larynx. Some of the muscles of the root of the tongue are attached to it, as well as some of the laryngeal muscles. It is not attached to any other bone, which makes it something of a curiosity among bones.
Unknown origin "folk beliefs" about stuttering
Etiological myths - Stuttering is caused by
- The "Switching-Causes-Stuttering" Myth from Left-handed Myths by Lorin Elias
There is a myth "which claims that stuttering is the result of forcing a left-hander to switch to right-handedness, at least for the task of writing. The popular literature usually supports this claim with anecdotal evidence - namely King George VI. George VI was forced "to adapt to using his right hand and developed a stutter into the bargain" (Langford, 1984, p. 105). Theorizing that forcing left-handers into right-handedness causes stuttering is certainly an oversimplification of the truth. Stuttering appears to have a complicated etiology that is not completely understood. However, ruling out the "switch" hypothesis is not as simple as one might think.
Ballard (1912) conducted one of the first large-scale studies of stuttering and handedness, surveying data from 13,189 children. For those children whose handedness had not been tampered with,
the prevalence of stuttering was 1.1%. However, the prevalence of stuttering rose to 4.3% among children forced to switch to right-handed writing. Other data collected prior to 1940 yielded similar
results. Fagan (1931), Bryngelson (1939), Bryngelson and Rutherford (1937), and Travis (1931) all found that stuttering was strongly related to the shift of handedness from left to right.
However, not all were convinced. Burt (1937) claimed that most individuals "switched" from left-handedness did not develop a stutter, and that the relation reported by other authors may have been an artifact of the heavy-handed and sometimes ruthless methods employed to "help" left-handers on the road to dextrality. In other words, the stress (and sometimes violence) endured by these left-handed children could have been the principal cause of their stuttering, not the handedness switch itself. Most of the studies published since 1940 have failed to detect evidence of the "switching hypothesis" or increased prevalence of stuttering among left-handers (Andrews & Harris, 1964; Porfert & Rosenfield, 1978; Webster & Poulos, 1987). In any event, the sweeping popularity achieved by the "switching" theory resulted in a "hands-off" policy in the schools, where teachers stopped enforcing right-handedness for fear of invoking speech impediments in their pupils."
- From an Ann Lander's column, July, 1998. My great-grandfather, Dr. J.B. Frymire, started a very simple method in 1893 to help stutterers, and it didn't cost anything. According to his medical journals, it was a great success. Here's his method. Open a book, and start reading aloud, but leave your teeth clenched. Do this for five minutes the first day. Each day thereafter, add five more minutes. Do this until you reach 60 minutes. Then, read aloud for 60 minutes each day for the next two months. You must read loud enough to be heard. Dick Frymire, doctor of barnyard science, Irvington, Texas. According to Alex Gooden this suggestion is also found in early versions of Mrs Beeton's "Cookery and Household Management." The first edition must have published in the early 1890s, and must have been a common recommended remedy in Victorian times.
- My mother, God rest her soul, was terribly concerned with her "perfect " child having a speech problem. She took me to our local small town doctor (who had to leave his practice in a big city because of his "nervous condition"). His diagnosis: I was tongue tied. His solution was to cut some of the tissue attached to my tongue at the front. Well I didn't stop stuttering and my tongue is now causing severe apnea problems at night. I can't keep it far enough forward so it restricts my breathing in bed. (Don Luke, posted to Stutt-X, September 8, 1999).
- In his book Home Cure for Stammerers published in 1907, George Lewis suggests a daily routine for "all stammerers:"
Arise at 6:30 Drink a glass of water while dressing
Exercise the body. Brisk walk in open air for about 10 minutes
Breakfast: Take no coffee or tea. Eat stale bread. Eat plain light
Sip one of more glasses of water slowly. Dinner: Eat slowly and
masticate well. Avoid fatty substances and unripe animal and unripe
vegetable food. Fruit and vegetables (good).
Afternoon and Evening
Voice culture. Eat supper early. Rest half an hour after eating Study or work till 8pm. Then read to some one aloud, using pleasant and humorous reading, or instead carry on conversation. Retire at 9:30pm.
(Posted to Stutt-l by Andy Floyd, December 4, 1999)
- I was told by many people including a speech therapist in junior high to talk wtih a penny under my tongue. About 50 cents and lots of laxative later I decided I'd rather stutter!!!! (sent anonymously, January 13, 2000).
- People used to think that if you put marbles in the bottom of the
stutterer's mouth when they talked it would help them not to stutter. It was a waste of marbles. I learned this from my speech therapist. (sent anonymously, April 25, 2000
- Barry Howze remembers reading about a therapy for stuttering that required the stutterer to remain completely silent for a whole year - not a sound to anyone for the whole 12 months. The person who went through this wrote that after the year he still stuttered but was "very much improved". (posted to email@example.com on 17 December 2001)
- Cotton Mather, (1663-1728) a Puritan minister at the Old North Church in Boston, is probably best remembered for his writings and role in the witch hunts in Massachusetts.
Mather wrote many volumes, including The Angel of Bethesda, a treatise on medicine and also encouraged the citizens of Boston to be inoculated for smallpox during an epidemic that occurred in 1721. The book was completed in 1724 but was not published until the twentieth century. It was "the only comprehensive medical work of the entire colonial period." One chapter is entitled "Ephphatha" (the Greek form of the Aramaic word for "be opened") and subtitled "Some Advice to STAMMERERS - How to Gett Good by, and how to Gett rid of their grievous Infirmity." This chapter is particularly interesting since Mather himself was a person who stuttered. It also suggests some unusual treatments, a multidimensional approach to the cause of stuttering, some interesting insights into things that exacerbate stuttering (such as caffeine), and relates a treatment strategy that sounds very reminiscent on the fluency shaping approach to treatment.
There is a great Number of Mankind, that have the unhappy and uneasy Infirmity of STAMMERING, to lay Curbs upon them.
Sometimes a Weakness, upon that Pair of Nerves which give Motion and Vigour to the Organs of Speech, may be the Original of this Infirmity. And hence I have know such a Thing as the Spirit of Lavender, or the Q[ueen] of Hungaries Water, (used both outwardly and inwardly) still presently and sensibly unfetter one that spoke with Difficulty; when the Drinking of Coffee would increase the Fetters. (p. 226)
Dr. Fuller speaks of Stammering in Children, Cured with a Certain Application, whereby the Organs of Speech were Strengthened. It is a Cephalic Lotion. Take Bay-laveds, Betony, Vervain, Marjoram, Rosemary, Lavender, Each Two handfuls; Boil them in a Lixivium of Wood Ashes, three Quarts to two; Adding at last powdered Clovers, and Nutment. Each Two Drams. Mix. Lett the Head be shaved, and formented in the Mornings (a quarter of an Hour at a time,) with a Spunge dipt in this Liquor hott, and Squeezed out again. But have a special care of catching any Cold upon it. (p. 232)
I know one, who had been very much a Stammerer; and no words can tell, how much his Infirmity did Encumber and Embitter the first years of his Pilgrimage. . . "There came an Aged Schole-Master, to visit him at his Chamber in the Colledge where he then resided; and addressed him with a Discourse to this Effect. "My Friend, I now Visit you for nothing, but only to Talk with you about the Infirmity in your Speech, and offer you my Adivce about it; Because I Suppose tis a Thing that greatly Trouble you. What I advise you to, is, To seek a Cure for it, in the Method of Deliberation.. Did you ever know any one Stammer in Singing of the ?" [He then Exemplified, the Pronumciation of the first Verse in Homer with a long Prolation of Every Syllable, which a Stammerer might without any Interruption conform unto. "While you go to Snatch at words, and are too quick at bringing of them out, you'l be Stop'd a thousand times in a day. But first use yourself to a very Deliberate way of Speaking; a Drawling that shall be little short of Singing. Even this Drawling will be better than Stammering; Especially if what you Speak, be well worth our waiting for. This Deliberate way of Speaking will also give you a great Command of pertinent Thoughts; yea, and if you find a word likely to be too hard for you, there will be time for you to think of Substituting another that won't be so. By this Deliberation you will be accustomed anon to Speak so much without the Indecent Hesitations that you'l always be in the way of it; yea, the Organs of your Speech will be so Habituated unto Right-Speaking, that you will by Degrees, and Sooner than you imaging, grow Able to Speak as fast again, as you did when the Law of Deliberation first of all began to govern you. Tho' my Advice is, Beware of Speaking too fast, as Long as you Live."(p. 229-230).
Added by Judy Kuster, April 19, 2004. The quotations were taken from Mather, Cotton, The Angel of Bethesda, edited by Gordon W. Jones, American Antiquarian Society, Barre Publishers, 1972.
section added April 14, 1999
last modified October 22, 2015
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