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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 | Last updated: 7:36am

Mocking of speech impediments no laughing matter



A person is struggling to find the right word in the middle of a conversation when someone interjects with a phrase made famous by Adam Sandler: “T-t-t-today junior.” While this may provide comic relief for some, it’s important to ask why the expression is considered funny at all.

A video from the 2010 College Unions Poetry Slam Finals has grown popular for the way it sheds light on people’s insensitivity toward stutters, stammers and lisps. George Watsky’s “S for Lisp” proves empowering as he puts his speech impediment on proud display.

“So someone said to me the other day that I’ve got a lisp,” Watsky begins in his opening stanza. “A stranger, you know, they said I’ve got a subtle lisp and that I should know I sound a little stupid doing spoken word when my words with S’s in them are spoken so absurd.”

Sibilant sounds are produced when air is pushed between the teeth, creating an ‘S’ sound.

According to statistics compiled by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately three million people in the U.S. have a consistent stutter, while six to eight million people have some form of language impairment.

It’s generally accepted that it’s wrong to mock someone’s birth defect or learning disability, so why are lisps and other impediments abused for comedic purposes?

Society rarely directs any positive attention toward speech impediments and language impairments. Language disorders and impairments are often associated with incompetence or even unintelligence. Stutters and lisps draw taunts and ridicule on elementary school playgrounds and whispered judgments in junior high hallways.

“The King’s Speech,” released in 2010, portrayed King George VI’s struggle with his stutter and brought attention to the distress six to eight million Americans feel every time they open their mouths to speak.

People with a language impairment might shy away from situations that would put their impairment on displays, but Watsky celebrates his speech impediment.

After Watsky’s video went viral on YouTube, comments began flowing in about people’s experiences with their own vocal hardships. It’s evident that this video is an outlet for positive discussion about stutters and lisps.

“As a twenty year old female who stutters, this video is incredible to me,” writes one YouTube commenter. “As people with speech impediments, we must all go through life confident, and never doubt our potential for all that life has to offer.”

The often negative associations that accompany a speech impediment can make people feel slow and stupid, which ultimately hacks away at their self-confidence. In addition, society makes judgments based on first impressions, so anyone can see how personal encounters would be nerve-racking for those with language impairments.

Coming from someone who struggled with the word “squirrel” as a child and still stumbles over “rural” and “musician,” it’s refreshing to see speech impediments portrayed in a positive light for a change.

— Amy Johnson is a journalism sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.


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