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'Foundations of Stuttering' by Marcel Wingate

Vhairi Matheson, Peter Howell, Marcel Wingate. | 01.03.2004

Review by Vhairi Matheson, and letters from Peter Howell and Marcel Wingate.

Review by Vhairi Matheson

Cover of 'Foundations of Stuttering'Marcel Wingate is a professor emeritus of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the Washington State University. He is a recognised scholar in the area of fluency disorders. In the 1960s and the 1970s his articles on vocalisation hypothesis stimulated a lot of research in the area of stuttering. He has widely influenced research on stuttering by questioning basic beliefs in the field, and he has offered a widely accepted definition of the disorder.

Foundations of Stuttering presents a new perspective on stuttering. The object of the book is to "take a new departure in the approach to the study of stuttering". While noting much of the research literature on the subject approaches it as a psychological problem, Wingate seeks to establish a rational and scientifically defensible foundation for the study and management of stuttering as a disorder of speech. In doing this he draws on evidence from the fields of psychology, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics, with particular emphasis on the issues of fluency and speech production. The underlying theme of the book is that the study of stammering must be based on what is known about speech and its production.

Part one centres on the causation, identification and description of stuttering. Wingate includes a critical analysis of much of the accepted literature in the field which lacks scientific orientation and credibility, "frequently touting one or another personal or thematic bias and unscientific in nature". In chapter two Wingate states that the preoccupation with the cause of stammering has severely obstructed progress in understanding the disorder itself. Chapter three details the 'facts of' stuttering and symptoms. Chapter four gives the 'facts about' stuttering, including singing, speaking in rhythm, delayed auditory feedback and the part played by childhood influences, hereditary factors and genetics - in essence the more reliable facts about stuttering.

Part two discusses the major forces which obstruct a fully scientific study of the disorder. Wingate states a "lack of adequate attention to speech per se is a common dimension in all these circumstances". Chapter five relates the excesses of literature on the disorder and the unreliable nature of personal testimony. Chapter six discusses behaviour of stuttering, including avoidance, difficult words, distractions and expectancy of stuttering. Chapter seven describes features of stuttering: repetitions, hesitations, interjections and disfluency. Chapter nine is concerned with the psychological influences which disregard stuttering as an abnormality of speech. Wingate mentions the "cavalier attitude" to speech and the misconception that "speech is automatic". He stresses the differences between the printed word, language and speech and the trivialisation of the speech process, especially in regard to the literature on the subject.

Part three gives particular attention to the appraisal and discussion of fluency. Chapter ten asks the question, is fluency an illusion? Wingate analyses the different patterns of speech, in particular non-fluency in normal speech. He makes a scientific analysis of elements affecting our perceptions of fluency and its illusory nature. Chapter eleven discusses "normal speech". Working from the premise that speech is not automatic, Wingate describes the processes and structure of actual speech. The chapter acquaints the reader with matters fundamental to an appreciation of speech and its production. Again he is critical of the literature which exists within this field. Chapter twelve deals with the psycholinguistic elements of stuttering, the language dimensions of stuttering. What words do stammerers find difficult, when in a sentence do they stammer, and when in childhood does this develop? Chapter thirteen discusses the neurological structures and functions of speech production. He considers stuttering is best investigated as a unique event within the process of speech production and the nature of these processes remain well beyond present day neurological inquiry. He also asks the question of effective management of stuttering if it was found to have a firm neurological base.

Part four is concerned with the management of stuttering. Wingate takes no account of the accepted theories of stuttering and details a brief history of management in regard to therapy and counselling. His underlying premise is that management can be achieved through understanding the nature of speech and speech production and the structure of the stutter. He regards it as a disorder of childhood, not a purely psychological problem, having a genetic base and being a matter of an individual's constitution. It is gender related and there are conditions which can improve stuttering, such as delayed auditory feedback. Treatment should be derived not from theories but from practical based efforts.

A lot can be offered to those interested in the stance taken by Wingate, that stuttering is a problem of speech production. The book itself is written mainly for speech and language therapists, scholars and those interested in language and linguistics. Yet the section on normal speech production in comparison to that of the stutterer is illuminating. It presents a fresh perspective on stuttering, its discussion of logical and scientific methods is instructive and the book intellectually stimulating.

Reviewed by Vhairi Matheson in the Winter 2002 issue of 'Speaking Out'

Book published 2002.

Letter from Peter Howell

I approached Vhairi Matheson's review of Wingate's 'Foundations of Stuttering' with interest. I was hoping to see discussed the many interesting, not to say provocative, topics that Wingate raises in his book that have relevance for an audience like 'Speaking Out'.

I assume the readers are, in the main, people who stutter, parents of children who stutter and speech and language therapists. Some of the details about purely academic research may be of less interest to these readers. However, there are three issues I would like to alert readers to that ought to have been discussed in the review.

First there are Wingate's significant facts (all negative) about stuttering "(1) its cause is unknown, (2) its essential nature is not understood, and (3) there is no known cure" (p.11). A grim picture if these facts are true so what are the merits and problems with Wingate's arguments for these facts?

Second, chapter five contains a coherent argument about whether understanding about the disorder is informed by the testimonies of people who stutter. Wingate dismisses such testimony whereas my impression is that speakers who stutter feel that their personal experience has substantial value to the researcher.

Third, chapter six discusses what Wingate calls "deceptive concepts" where he debunks different extant "theories". Wingate is well known for his antithetical views of Wendell Johnson's work that Wingate characterises as "stuttering is a learned behaviour". This chapter has a section on the two most important variants of learning theory (learning theory and conflict theory). Both these variants, Wingate concludes, "lack scientific merit" (p.129). Surely there are therapists around who would want to know about and evaluate the pros and cons of this argument. For example, though there was an initial connection between Johnson's original ideas about stuttering as a psychological problem and learning, it is not clear whether current practitioners using learning theory would necessarily want to link their ideas to Johnson's as Wingate implies.

Peter Howell, University College London

From the Spring 2003 edition of Speaking Out

Letter from Marcel Wingate

Dear Editor:
The accompanying letter from Peter Howell to a review of Foundations of Stuttering (Speaking Out Winter 2002) calls for considerable rectification.

He says the facts discussed in the book are not "all negative", and there are many more than three, in fact, a preliminary list of reported facts is printed on the page facing the page containing the three that Howell isolates. Those extensively documented facts should be well known by anyone knowledgeable about stuttering; they are hardly a subject for argument. Moreover, Howell does not mention that Chapter 4 discusses seventeen other facts which, also not arguable, are less well documented than the three first featured. Chapter 14 contains an outlined summary review of factual material presented at various junctures earlier in the book; it is identified as important information to convey to parents and stutterers.

Secondly: I do not dismiss stutterers' testimony. Such material is recognized (see page 97) as having a place in the study of the disorder. However, there are substantial reasons in Chapter 5 for denying that such material be accepted, or even seriously offered, as explanation of the nature of stuttering. Also: how (some) stutterers may feel about this matter is not really pertinent to the issue. (It is of note that Howell evidently became familiar with the content of Chapter 5; strange, then that he should have missed Chapter 4 so completely.)

Regarding his third comment: In his attempted quibble regarding learning theory as 'early' versus 'later' versions, Howell evades the reality that all learning theory efforts came from and sustain Wendell Johnson's grand presumption, and (2) continue to ignore significant lacunae and contradictions inherent in their fabrications. Howell's proposed evaluation of the "pros and cons" of learning theory accounts would have little scientific justification because those accounts are essentially rhetorical constructions. Essential limitations of these conjectures are presented in Chapter 6.

Finally, it bears mention that Howell's comments reflect the aura of un-science that pervades so much of what is said and written about stuttering. Unwelcome realities are grim, and their actuality summarily questioned. One deals in impression, how persons feel, and whether they might want to consider certain matters. Rational analyses are ignored, and compelling evidence is subverted through the will to preserve favoured notions.

Marcel Wingate
Professor Emeritus
Washington State University

From the Spring 2004 edition of Speaking Out