Make Room For The Stuttering

What Stuttering Looks Like

Posted on: June 16, 2010

I am learning a lot more about what stuttering looks like by editing audio.  And I am reminded of two experiences that bothered me in the past, which now make more sense as I actually “look” at stuttering.

Above is a screen shot of my voice recorded and captured as a sound wave in the audio program “Audacity”. Notice how some of the audio looks “dense and thick” and some is just a straight line with no depth to it. Well,  if you play that clip of audio, the part with no depth is where I stutter – its a pause or block.

Looks funny, doesn’t it? I never really understood how sound could look until I started using this type of editing software.

Podcasters (both the veteran ones, and newbies like me) use this free program to edit audio, much like you would if you were editing text. You can highlight, add, delete, copy and paste. It does take a little getting used to, but not as intimidating as I first thought.

When I did a radio program on NPR last month on stuttering, of course there was stuttering. It was expected that I stutter. That was the point of the talk, to raise awareness of stuttering.

Afterward though, the show’s producer asked me if I would record a testimonial for the radio station. They ask all the guests to do it. I just had to say my name, where I worked, and what I listened to and liked best about the station.

Well, after the first time, the producer suggested I try it again. After take 2, she asked what did I think. She said we could “edit out the stutters” if I wanted. I just looked at her. She said it was perfectly fine to leave them in. I said “Of course, I want them left in!”

She asked me to do it yet again, as she said it sounded like I was reading from a script. (I was!) She wanted me to sound natural. Each of the 6 times I recorded that testimony clip, I stuttered on the exact same words and in the exact same way. We didn’t change anything.

This reminds me of something similar about two years ago. I was feeling more confident than ever about speaking and how my voice sounded. I decided to “audition” to be a reader for the visually impaired through a program offered through our public broadcasting television station.

Readers read aloud from newspapers, books or magazines,and then people with visual impairments who subscribe to the service, can hear their favorite newspapers or magazines and keep up with the news. It’s a great program, and completely supported by volunteers.

Well, I “passed” my audition. I read a couple of newspaper articles.  Because of my stutter, which I did not disclose to the woman listening to me, I can often speak with good modulation and pausing, and speak very deliberately, which is perfect for this kind of thing.

But when the audition was over, she gave me some editing orientation. I was going to have to edit my own stuff. She let me experiment in a studio for a while, and let me know that I would need to edit out any “dead air”.

I recorded several clips and produced sound waves like above. Because she was not in the room, I spoke more naturally and had some stuttered moments. I remember they looked exactly like this clip looks. She had shown me how to drag and click, and I could “trim” out the “mistakes”. I did not want to edit out my stuttering nor did I want to trim away “dead air”.

That was me talking. Those sound waves were my voice, my stuttering. What did I do? I erased the sample clips I did that day, cleaned up my work space,signed out of the studio, and left. And never went back.

I had largely forgotten about that until recording the testimonial last month. And now doing audio file editing, where I am actually seeing what my voice “looks like” in the form of a sound wave, I get what radio or TV people who don’t stutter “see”. They just see a sound wave with dead space that needs to be trimmed away. It is totally impersonal to them. There is no connection, the sound wave doesn’t represent a person.

But that stuff up there – those different lines, some dense, some not, that’s ME. That’s my stuttering. That’s what it looks like.

And I will never edit any of that out. EVER. So be it, right?

12 Responses to "What Stuttering Looks Like"

YES, you are right!

Very interesting viewpoint. Do you know what: it reminded me this famous sentence that the silence after Mozart is still by Mozart…

Hi Pam
Very interesting idea to actually look at stuttering or the dead air parts of it anyway.
I did a radio broadcast last year on Louis Braille. The producer said I needed to sound more natural, more like me, so I did that and stuttered a bit more than when I was reading slower and more deliberately. She said they could edit out the stuttering, and I said I wanted her to leave them in because that’s how I sound. Like you, I felt a bit offended that the stuttering wasn’t considered ok, while the sound of my fingers reading my braille script was. They didn’t want to edit my fingers brushing across the braille out, but the stuttering was unacceptable. So they edited the stutters out and I had no control over it. If you listen to that programme and search for braille, you will hear the tiniest of stutters but most people would never know. I’m trying to hide my stutter less but the world wants to hide it because it thinks it’s unacceptable. Being a user of one of those services for the visually impaired, I can see where the woman was coming from. They want clean sounding audio which is easy to listen to, but for us who stutter, the dead air is part of how we talk and it’s not dead air. Anyway sorry this is so long but it struck a chord with me.

I think this is a great reply, Lisette. I really wanted to do the thing for the RISE program for visually impaired. Becasue I wasn’t honest about my stuttering at the audition, and “passed” with almost total fluency, I was then faced with the dilemma of what to do when I really did stutter. It would have been easier for me to deal with had I not “seen” what stuttering looks like in audio form. Or, if I didn’t have to do my own editing, if indeed I agreed to go along with that.
But your reality is correct: the world doesn’t want to hear stuttered speech on a public forum such as radio. Its not acceptable to not have the smooth, natural fluency we hear from radio annoucers. This really just hit me this week. I will look for your broadcast.

Hi Pam,

I was thinking as I read your post that people do similar “editing” in other contexts, like dyeing their hair, or using contact lenses, or using elevated shoes. Of course, people ususally “edit” themsleves these ways as a matter of personal choice and not as a result of coercion. (At least, its not outward coercion, but rather inward coercion — a need to fit socety’s “mold”.)

In your context, the producer said she wanted you to sound “natural”, but after 6 times it became obvious to you that what she really wanted was for you to sound natural in the world’s mold, and not sound like the natural “you”. In your context, “editing out” the stutters from the audio clip would have been edititng out “you”.

On the other hand, I think you’d agree that just like there might be a time and place where hair dye, contact lenses, elelvated shoes, etc., could be useful. so too there might be be a time and place where the audio editing editing program could be useful to you — it just has to be YOUR decision, not somebody elses.

Thanks Ruvain! Shayna told me you responded, which I must say I am very honored. Yes, I think the world too often wants us to “stay within the lines” . We should never forget that each of us has been uniquely molded.
And your analogy to hair dye and contact lenses is great.

Funny, but I have to read this from the perspective of my ‘speech impediment’. While you may stutter, your diction, grammar, prounciation, sentence structure – all means of verbal speech – are otherwise strong. And when I hear your speak I rarely notice your stuttering because of those other strong speaking qualities. Yet for me, while I do not stutter, I am bothered and self conscious of my inner-city speech patterns – i.e., speaking very quickly, losing the end of words and often sentences, hard ‘r’s – not to mention the often, unplanned use of ‘colorful words’.
Rather than rolling with my speaking issues and being proud of my background, it has become a disincentive to speak in public. Perhaps I should ‘roll with it’. What did you say at the end: So be it, right?

Yes, Loretta, you should definitely roll with it. You have a style all your own, and when you speak, people listen.
But your way of connecting my story to a more universal story says it all. We all have fears and we all risk being vulnerable.
But as you reminded me I said, what we all say has value, most especially you.
You need to just let ‘er rip, you have a gift, maybe you just don’t fully realize it yet.
Thank you for taking the time to read and thoughtfully reply.

This is an interesting way of viewing it. Technology is incredible. Thanks for sharing it.

Thanks Gin. Yep, technology is incredible, and is changing the way we interact with the world.
I’d be happy to help you with your blog start up anytime!

Hi Pam,
Thank you for the opportunity to review this piece. I am a visual learner so I’m fascinated by Audacity software. The different lines actually represent your voice and the lines with little depth capture stuttering. Amazing technology!

It’s been an honor to witness your “growth” in Toastmasters. You’ve certainly demonstrated an ability to be true to yourself. In my opinion, being true to ourself is one of the most valued traits of the human spirit.

Way to go Stutterrockstar!!

Thanks so much for taking the time and being open to my continuous sharing of this part of me. I always worry that people (who don’t stutter)won’t want to hear about my journey. So I feel especially touched when you give me feedback like this.
You have been a part of my growth process. I think we all help each other in Toastmasters, if we remain open to the process. My spirit remains in tact due to the support I receive from people like you!

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