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'Knotted Tongues', by Benson Bobrick,

Gabriel Hershman | 01.06.1995

Book review by Gabriel Hershman.

'Knotted tongues' coverBenson Bobrick has produced an erudite and impeccable researched treatise on society's view of stammering through the ages interlaced with some interesting personal autobiography. Some of the language is quite technical in places and probably this is not to be recommended as a "first" read for stammerers but rather as a text offering secondary grounding to those already acquainted with the subject.

"Knotted Tongues" takes us on a journey through the labyrinthian maze of stammering therapy, via the bizarre and barbaric surgery on the tongue advocated by Victorian "experts" through to the more conventional wisdoms of Van Riper and Sheehan with their emphasis on the underlying psychological basis to the problem.

There is the familiar thread of tragi-comic anecdotes about various noteworthies and their anguish, from turn-of-the-century novelist Arnold Bennett who was seen by fellow sufferer Somerset Maugham "beating his knee with his clenched fist to force the words from his lips" whilst at a part, through to the contemporary writer Jonathan Miller stating his destination to a bus conductor as "the Arch of Marble" because he stammered badly on the "m" sound.

Bobrick tells of his own ordeal when he was employed in menial jobs well beneath his ability. "A complete sense of worthlessness overcame me. I regarded myself simply as a stammerer, fundamentally inadequate at life."

After a battle with drinking (which he found helped him to speak) Bobrick eventually found his deliverance when he enrolled on a course centred around Ronald Webster's "Precision Fluency Shaping Program" which involves reducing the air pressure in the stammerer's vocal tract and producing low amplitude voice vibrations.

Bobrick identifies a neurological cause to stammering but accepts that research is ultimately inconclusive. This book offers hope to people in the grip of this baffling disorder whereby, in the words of impartial observer Charles Dickens, "the sufferer feels that the world without is separated from the world within".

From the Summer 1995 issue of 'Speaking Out'.