Dead Languages Book Report

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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According to Jeremy's college speech therapist the beginning of his speech impediment or the beginning of the turmoil it later would cause him began on a very sunny summer day. A day in which he was not allowed to go outside, but rather had to lay on a conch at the age of five, and have his mother inform him that more and more often his family members had noticed that he sometimes spoke to fast. Prior to this, Jeremy had not noticed his difficulty, it had never before bothered him. Only then, when his mother pointed out that what he was doing was incorrect and was an irritation to the family, did it become an embarrassment and hindrance for him. From that moment on everything he did in some way was centered on his stuttering. Throughout this fictional account of a very insightful the reader feels for Jeremy, a child who is struggling with a speech impediment of disfluency.

Through various school activities and inept speech therapist Jeremy sets out to find a cure for his stutter. In a house where words were not only the form of communication, but the profession and passion of both parents, and the brilliant older sister there must have been extreme pressure for him to excel at language. Jeremy, though a lover of words and writing himself, finds that the spoken word often escapes him. As a child in school he writes a rather clever story about a clown named bozo and Columbus day. His story being so good, his teacher Miss Kilner post it at parents night. Of course, Jeremy's worst fear comes true and he is urged by all to read his interesting story to them all. Jeremy is in a intensely uncomfortable situation and as most of his speech pathologist all say at least once is that individuals with disfluency problems stutter because they are attempting so wholeheartedly not to. So, Jeremy in front of all his class mates and friends reads his humorous and throughly well written story at parents night at his school, and stutters all the way through the piece. Soon after Jeremy began seeing his first inept speech therapist, she didn't do much to help Jeremy cure his speech problems, but she was partly responsible for Jeremy's counterpart in speech therapy to swallow a button as a part of her dynamic therapist exercise, and inadvertently cured his lisp. She wasn't much help to Jeremy as a therapist, as Jeremy's counterpart suggested, he should have swallowed the button; it may have brought him closer to his goal.

At one point Jeremy decided to give on language completely. For weeks Jeremy studied sign language as an alternative to speaking. Just before his families vacation to the high Sierras he announced in letter form his intention to be mute. He would communicate in sign language and a note pad attached to his wrist. His family of course thought he was joking, but true to his word he didn't speak a word for the length of the trip, his father finally fed up with his muteness, attempted to persuade him to speak. Jeremy was against the change and in the end he only proved that he was not to old to be turned over his mothers knee. Needless to say, he didn't use his sign language again. In athletics Jeremy found a way to excel without using words. He was fast, and he had an excellent set-shot courtesy of his father and Joe Lapchick. He was the only white boy on an all black basketball team, due to his parents strong belief in the integration of schools and used Jeremy as an example of what other middle class whites should do, leave the lilly white segregated private schools and enroll their children in the integrated public school system. Here Jeremy was famous for Joe Lapchicks set-shot and fell in love with an orphan who like to chew bubble gum and chain smoke at the same time. Jeremy's stuttering wasn't an issue on the basketball court which is most probably the reason it was all he ever did with his spare time. The end of Junior high, was also the end of his parents experiment. His mother felt he wasn't getting enough sophistication so off he went to the segregated private schools. Through the next few years of Jeremy's life he tried many things to master language and his place in using it. He was the editor of his school paper where he enjoyed writing mean satires about one way windows, he even made a rather heroic attempt at running for school president. He made a speech so moving he didn't stutter through it, but did receive a lot of students lunches being thrown at him, apparently they were not as liberal about integrating their Lilly white environment. His mother urged him to join the debate team. Another attempt at a cure for his stutter, maybe speaking in front of people more would cure him. In the end of this experience he had fallen off a stage in the heat of a debate, but still he struggled with his disfluency. He comes to except that he may always be on the outside of speaking. His disfluency became something he could almost except, and then his face began to rebel. One day at the beach he decided it was all to much and attempted to take his life. He received two very broken legs and no cure for either his face or his stuttering.

In college, he continued his attempt to master language. He was a writer and one of his great frustrations was that language was so easily expressed on paper, yet the simplest word could be impossible for him to speak. He began seeing Sandra a speech therapist who actually had some interesting ideas about separating emotion for the speech process. He began to truly work at correcting his speech. Family tragedy, relationship problems, and life itself made it rather impossible to separate his emotions from his speaking. He did not find a cure, but he did find a kind of acceptance and understanding, that it is possible that the important thing about communicating isn't speaking fluently without breaks but moving away from the mechanics of speech and letting go of the pain of not being able to perform it perfectly and revitalizing the dead language of communicating without words. Through finally understanding and communicating with his family on a level he couldn't reach with fluent speech.

Personally, this novel reveled to me how having a speech impediment such as stuttering could impact almost everything that one does. It seemed in Dead Languages that his disfluency was there in the back of his mind influencing every major decision he made. It was their with the debate team, running for student body president, becoming a writer, even playing basketball. Every sentence that he spoke he had to worry if it was going to come out correctly or would his impediment betray him. It is something from within that is a frightening and it seems to be nothing concrete one can do about it.

Unlike other disorders discussed in this course it would seem that having a speech problem such as stuttering is more of a hindrance than anything else. It isn't very difficult to form relationships once people are exposed to the problem, it isn't difficult to accept. Disfluency, does not hold the long standing and hard to except stereotypes that deafness, blindness, and muteness can produce. An inability to speak fluently expresses only a lack of comfort on the part of the person with the speech problem. A person with a stuttering problem does not have to break stereotypes to be given a chance in the world. It is not amazing to see a stutterer succeed. From Dead Languages, I gathered that it is a disorder that one learns to deal with, while it can get better it is never completely cured, but it is not a hindrance to living a normal life. That is not to say that it does not affect life in any conceivable way. In Dead Languages, Jeremy never cures himself of his disfluency, but he also finds that he didn't need to in order to communicate. That would seem to be the theme of this particular story, but I believe it is the case with speech impediments such as these. The inability to speak fluently is an embarrassment to a child growing up. It creates a need in the child to have a very extended vocabulary so that there is never a word that one can't speak for which he doesn't know another word he can say of the same meaning. It is the cause of many embarrassing moments and is the one thing that people will remember about you. All those things culminate in more self doubt and insecurity which only adds to the initial problem that caused the disfluency. Stuttering is an embarrassing annoyance, but one that can be overcome and lived with without to many life changing repercussions.

As a tool for understanding a communication disorder and analyzing its effects on a human life, this book was very useful. Stuttering, though not something that inhibits living a fairly normal and full life, is always in the foreground of the persons life. Before every phone conversation, first time meeting, job interview, etc. Someone with this kind of problem is constantly afraid of what words he'll trip over today an in what situation. Compared to the other disorders we have studied it seems almost minor, but it none the less has life long effects on the disfluent speaker.