In previous posts I’ve covered how stammering made a me a dancer and a fan of popular music. In later ones I’ll tell you how it gave me an access-all-areas pass to the spirit world and the abilities to talk with animals and to pass undetected through the realms of the mad. A list of high-achieving stammerers is also planned, as is a generous offer to share a little of our coveted victimhood status with you. But now as promised, and laying all false modesty aside, I’m going to explain how stammering made me a linguist. Casual observers may think this strange: “Why’s he want to study languages? It’s not like he’s gonna be able to speak them!” Yeah, right. Well, I’ll discuss another time the perfectly possible business of grappling with a foreign tongue; but first I’m going to explain the stammerer’s special relationship with the structural concepts that underlie human language. (This might be considered appropriate recompense for the tax-payers money spent training me as a computational linguist, though, as I shall explain, I didn’t really need any training, so it was a waste of your money, but thanks anyway). Like stammering, linguistics - in any sense that is worthy of the name - is a long run rather than a 100 metre dash. Of course as a stammerer you’ll start at the back of the linguistic pack, less able to talk to the nice barmaid than the barfly who’s already got the previous 3 up the duff, but it ain’t over till it’s over. If you hang in there you’ll see there are advantages; oh yes; advantages that like a fine port wine you can only appreciate over time; advantages that are specifically and paradoxically linguistic in origin. I relate them here to provide, I hope, a little encouragement for any young stammerer who’s yet to espy the prize.
The stammerer’s journey on the Road to Wellville is, like that of the constipation sufferer, an inner journey. But while the much-awaited petite mort of expelling something meaningful can be just as exulting, here the similarity ceases; for while the former has no choice over which shit to spit the latter has the golden treasury of all possible sounds available from the human vocal organs! Yes, you learn to make word substitutions - English is particularly rich with such alternatives. Get stuck on your haitches? you say “pensione” instead of “hhhhhhotel”; trouble with voiced alveolar plosives? it’s “hound” instead of “d-d-dog”; “seafood” instead of “fffffish”, “old lady” instead of “mmmmummy dearest”; (but of course it’s “g-g-get it on” not “make love” if you think the the sympathy factor kicks in). You see, you’ve already learned to use twice as many words and phrases as your average non-afluent! And there’s more. Some words can’t so easily be ignored, like names* and pronouns. But here’s where it gets really clever: it’s easier if you don’t have difficult sounds at the start of a sentence. You therefore learn to switch the grammar around before you speak. You’ll learn not to say “Yyyyyou are getting on my tits!!” but, “The one who’s getting on my tits is yyou!! or even better “There’s one who’s getting on my tits, ‘tis thee!! See, it’s the perfect training for a poet, and after a while these linguistic gymnastics come as naturally as breathing (more so, in a stammerer’s case). Bingo, you’re the next Percy B-B-F*****g Shelley - and then the crumpet’s for free. (Ding dong!) And finally, I’ve only now realised that I’ve got into the habit of using the variant “stammering” rather than the more widely used “stuttering” simply because it’s easier to say. B-cheerio!!!
* This is obviously how epithets started back in the days of oral tradition: Homer can’t say his Zs so Zeus is “He who Releases Rain”. Kennings too: an Icelandic scald can’t say his Ss so it’s a “wound-hoe” not a “sword”. And you can make up entirely new names - Lewis Carroll was a stammerer.