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Leys vs Google; Stuttering.me vs Person-First Language

Leys is waging his campaign vs. Google, and I am seriously considering waging a campaign against Person-First Language.  Stuttering.me reader Ralph commented on why I strike out person who stutters and replace it with “stutterer” in my posts.  He makes the very valid point that I might be offending some of my own who may not see things my way or who don’t know why I do it.  I certainly don’t want to offend my fellow people who stutter stutterers, but I would like to drive home the point that Person-First Language (PFL) may not be in our best interests either…

In essence, PFL attempts to use a crafty semantic ploy to minimize the condition and maximize the person. First and foremost, I am a person, and I also happen to stutter.  Ok, I get that.  And that makes a certain amount of intuitive sense.  Fine, well and dandy…

But when I was in college, I learned to have a great appreciation for those who think outside the box–or beyond the current paradigm of the time.  (Regardless of if I agreed w/ their point or not.)  This moment of zen hit me when listening to Gloria Steinem of all people.  Someone asked/told her how women firefighters would be inferior to men; and her response was something like, ‘I’d actually prefer a women to drag me out by my hair so I could breath cleaner air; the man would would pick me up over his shoulder where the smoke concentration is higher.’  Now–whether or not this makes sense to you is beside the point; my point is that she rejected the premise of the question and the thinking of the time.  I was introduced to Malcom X sometime later, where he shares the same genius.  If we set the black nationalism aspects aside, Malcom has a clear understanding of the flaws in his present paradigm which can only be realized once one thinks beyond (or outside) of the thinking of the day.  This vid is a perfect example; Malcom rejects the validity of the question, and the interviewer is utterly clueless on how to handle it.  (Watch the first minute or two of the video re: his last name…)

So let’s look at PFL again.  The whole purpose of PFL relative to stuttering is to maximize the person, minimize the stuttering.  This does a couple things…First, I would suggest it tends to enable the iceberg; it may help enable denial.  At the very least, it does not foster the concept of holistic desensitization.  Second, PFL inherently assumes that ‘stuttering’ is bad.  There is no PFL for positive attributes… Person who is smart; Woman who is hot.  These semantic monikers do not exist.  Therefore, the use of PFL relative to stuttering only reinforces that stuttering is a negative attribute or characteristic of the person.  Sure we can try to use semantic games to minimize it, but it’s still negative.

Now, I want you to think outside of the box for a moment.  What if we rejected the notion that stuttering is a bad thing?  Sure society won’t agree, but let’s throw them out too.  What do I (or we) think?  (That’s the importance, as we first and foremost live with ourselves!)  Granted, this is easier said than done; easier hypothesized than enacted.  But if we empower ourselves to think beyond the current cultural paradigm, to wholly reject the unfounded negative stuttering prejudice and stereotype, then we’re left with a personal characteristic that is what we make of it.

So what are we going to make of it?  And I’ve been reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stutterers, and it’s making way too much sense to me at the moment.  We may not have the liberty to be fluent speakers, but we certainly have the freedom to choose how we respond to stuttering (and how society reacts to stuttering) in our lives; does stuttering control us and our destiny, or do we control our own?

So I reject the use of PFL, at least in my own life.  It would be disingenuous to suggest that stuttering hasn’t somehow directly or indirectly impacted every significant facet of my life.  And while it has been tough at times, stuttering has turned out to be a net positive in my life.  And it has turned out to be a net positive in my own life because I have chosen to make it so.  I also reject the notion that stuttering is bad, ugly, wrong, optional, or a result of a personal character flaw.  This gives me the freedom to reject the cultural values as they relate to stuttering (in which we will lose every time) and re-write my (our) own rules and values relative to stuttering, life and living.  (You cannot hate the roots of the tree, if you click on the above link.)  But rejecting PFL requires that one step outside of the current paradigm, and reassess your reality from the outside in.  Reject the rules of life that have been bought and sold by your psyche and start writing your own.  Therein lies the rub…at least for me; it hasnt been an easy road, and I don’t necessarily wish it on others, but this is where I found my peace and feedom.

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  1. Ralph
    March 21st, 2009 at 05:08 | #1

    Thanks for the response. I should have kept track of the comments, I forgot. I guess I got that impression because of how the “struck term + correct term” construct is frequently used, and you, for example, make use of in this (http://stuttering.me/?p=892) post:

    > It’s written by someone with a self-professed PhD, and describes (at some length) the general perspective behind the neurosemantics pseudoscientific perspective.

    That usually carries some disdain, so I got the impression that there was something like that to it.

    But, as I suspected, I was wrong: that explains it nicely, and I agree with you. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Hey–cool to hear that great minds think alike 🙂

    [Reply]

  2. March 21st, 2009 at 06:32 | #2

    Greg, just one comment from left field (well,from someone who majored in English): “stutterer” has that “ur-ur” sound at the end of it, and after some thought, the only other English word I can come up with that has an ur-ur sound is “flatterer.” There are probably more, but it’s not common.

    Is it possible that this simply isn’t a comfortable sound in English and that’s why PWS caught on as opposed to “stutterer”?

    Person-first terminology does seem to make some degree of sense, but I’m not seeing it in my own kids, who were not “child with speech delay” but “speech delayed,” and children with autism are routinely called autistic. My daughter wasn’t “a baby with anencephaly” but “anencephalic,” and I keep seeing this all over the place. Gifted children as opposed to children with gifts (VBG) and “special needs kids” as opposed to “students with special needs.”

    I agree with your conclusion, but not necessarily with the reason for the precondition. If stuttering is unusual in the prevalence of person-first terminology, could it just be a linguistic quirk because of the repetitive sound in the suffix?

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    I get the syllable alliteration idea, but another aspect to it was the active push by misguided SLPs everywhere. Somewhere along the line, ‘stuttering’ became a dirty word. Even ASHA now calls it “fluency”–which just makes me laugh, as there’s very little “fluency” in it!

    Even our course titles for SLP students are “Fluency” etc… And one of the “big nine” areas of SLP competency is entitled “fluency” as opposed to “stuttering”. The field has done a good job at removing many (if not most) traces of the word “stuttering” in our professional vocabulary. Some may say that “fluency” is an umbrella-term to include stuttering & cluttering, but we all know it was done out of political correctness.

    [Reply]

    Jane Lebak Reply:

    Okay, calling stuttering “fluency” is bizarre. Actively removing the word does seem to smack of a value judgment. I’m sure all of us can think of a half-dozen other areas of life where the words have been massaged into meaning absolutely nothing at all. I had no idea it was so pervasive.

    Although now I’m confused as to why the Autism/Asperger’s community hasn’t suffered the same removal.

    [Reply]

  3. Michael Ritter
    March 21st, 2009 at 11:20 | #3

    Jane, I doubt that the prevalence of PFL can be attributed to some attempt to avoid the repetitive ‘ur-ur’ sequence.

    For one, if use of PFL had some kind of linguistic motivation, wouldn’t we expect to find other instances where PFL was used to deal with other apparently uncomfortable sound sequences? Instead we find appellations like ‘Person who is deaf’ and ‘Person with cerebral palsy’, where there seems to be no linguistic motivation whatsoever.

    Second, the ‘ur-ur’ sound sequence actually is a common one in English: adventurer, murderer, answerer, discoverer, insurer, sorcerer, labourer, lecturer, litterer, manufacturer, treasurer, whisperer, and so forth. As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of words in the English language like these: http://www.onelook.com/?w=*rer&loc=scworef&scwo=1&sswo=1&ls=a

    Greg, I totally agree with you. I downright refuse to refer to myself as a PWS. It drives me nuts. The term ‘stutterer’ underscores the fact that stuttering is an integral part of my identity, that I approach speaking situations (and social situations in general) as a stutterer, and I’m not going to use a term like PWS that insinuates otherwise.

    [Reply]

    Jane Lebak Reply:

    Thank you, Michael. I absolutely couldn’t come up with any other repetitions that way, and you knocked off a bunch without any effort. (Although “answerer” and “discoverer” aren’t in frequent usage, but laborer and the others definitely allare.)

    [Reply]

  4. Michael Ritter
    March 21st, 2009 at 11:47 | #4

    Just to add to what I wrote. Referring to myself as a PWS is tantamount to denying that stuttering is a part of my identity; it implies that a stutter is just an idiosyncrasy, an affectation. PWS implies that, aside from my stutter, I’m just just like everybody else. And that’s not the case at all.

    There’s nothing necessarily shameful about ‘being’ a stutterer. It’s all about what you bring to it. If James Weldon Johnson were a stutterer, I bet he’d say something like “It’s no disgrace to be a stutterer, but it’s often very inconvenient”.

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Well said (on both accounts), and thanks for turning me on to James Weldon Johnson!

    [Reply]

  5. Pam
    March 23rd, 2009 at 14:17 | #5

    Hey Greg,

    I can’t twitter from work, but I wanted to pass along this great site I came across today.
    You’ve probably already seen it, with your eagle eyes. [ Goofy Website Link Removed ]

    Pam

    [Reply]

    Michael Ritter Reply:

    SPAM

    [Reply]

    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Yeah–I wondered the same thing…but I checked w/ Pam, and she just (sarcastically) posted a goofy goofy website offering yet another stuttering “cure”. (I even went as far as to check the IP address! Has the Stuttering.Me fortress been infiltrated by snake oil? Not yet!)

    I removed the link, but enjoyed the humor!

    [Reply]

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