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Speech Pathologies

Lecturer: Andrew Burchell

As Chris Eagle notes in the introduction to his book Dysfluencies, when the English polymath Samuel Johnson had a stroke in the eighteenth century, he largely saw his ‘deprivation’ of speech as an act of God. By contrast, one hundred years later, the French poet Charles Baudelaire conceptualised his own post-stroke speech loss (known by the scientific name of ‘aphasia’) as a medical problem centred on his brain. Yet the voice also continued to remain at the porous boundaries of science, medicine and art: there were a variety of treatments for stammering, and a focus on the mechanics of voice in the teaching of elocution and poetry recitation, while speech disorders often influenced artistic representations (such as poetry or comic songs). This week’s lecture, associated readings (and one piece of listening) trace the history of speech pathologisation by medical figures. We will also explore the emergence of communities and organisations centred around, or aiming to represent, those with speech conditions and how these have given rise to new forms of disabled identities.

Seminar/Essay Questions:

  • What changed in the science of speech disorders over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
  • Did speech disorders work to build or disrupt hierarchies of medical authority between patient and practitioner?
  • What can speech disorders reveal about the making of ‘disability’ as both a label and an identity?
  • How valuable are speech and language conditions as ‘metaphors’ for thinking about broader social relations? Why have some people used them to do this?

Required Readings:

Chris Eagle, Dysfluencies: on speech disorders in modern literature (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), chapter 2, ‘Speech disorders and shell shock in World War I writing’, pp. 47-76

Josephine Hoegaerts, ‘S-s-s-syncopation: music, modernity, and the performance of stammering (ca.1860-1930)’, Societies, 5 (2015), pp. 744-759

One of the songs from JJJJJerome Ellis’ album The Clearing (NNA Tapes, 2021). Ellis – who describes himself as a ‘black disabled animal, stutterer, and artist’ – is an American jazz musician whose work mobilises his stutter into musical and spoken word performances that reflect on the connections between voice, culture and race in the contemporary world. I can particularly recommend ‘Loops of Retreat’ [05:41] and ‘Dysfluent Waters’ [10:36]. (These videos both have in-vision lyrics.)

Further Readings:

Chris Eagle, Dysfluencies: on speech disorders in modern literature (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013)

Jerome Ellis, ‘The clearing: music, dysfluency, blackness, and time’, BAK Online [direct link] (originally published in The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, 5:2 (2020))

Josephine Hoegaerts, ‘“Is it a habit or is it a disease?” The changing social meaning of stammering in nineteenth-century Western Europe’, Terrains & Travaux, 23 (2013), pp. 17-37

L.S. Jacyna, Lost Words: narratives of language and the brain, 1825-1926 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)

Marion Wilson Kimber, The Elocutionists: women, music, and the spoken word (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017)

Daniel Martin, 'George Catlin's Shut Your Mouth, the biopolitics of voice, and the problem of the "stuttering Indian"', in Josephine Hoergarts & Janice Schroeder (eds), Ordinary Oralities: everyday voices in history (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2023), pp. 65 - 79

Thomas Parkinson, 'Aphasia and drawing elephants', Wellcome Collections: Inside Our Collections, 30 May 2023 [blog post]

Jois Stansfield, ‘Giving Voice: an oral history of speech and language therapy’, International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders