Stuttering and bilingualism

Published on August 29, 2019   30 min

Other Talks in the Series: Speech Dysfluency

Thank you all so much for taking the time to listen to this talk today. My name is Courtney Byrd. I am a Professor and an Associate Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Texas at Austin. I'm also the founding Director of the Endowed Michael and Tami Lang Stuttering Institute and the principal investigator of the endowed Jennifer and Emmanuel Bodner of Developmental Stuttering Laboratory. Today, I'm going to be talking to you about a topic that has continued to intrigue me: the manifestation of stuttering in people who speak more than one language.
As we begin to take this journey in terms of how we look at the differences and disfluencies that are spoken by people who speak more than one language versus those who speak only one, we must first think about what distinguishes the monolingual speaker from the bilingual speaker. Bilingual speakers have functional knowledge of more than one language.
What's exciting about people who speak more than one language is that they do present a unique case for us in terms of exploring how the motor and linguistic demands compromise the person's ability to maintain speech fluency. We also need to take into account that for the bilingual speaker, they're not simply two monolingual speakers in one. That is, they don't know each language to the same degree and they can't speak each language to the same degree even if they're balanced. Rather, we have to consider that the bilingual speaker is experiencing their language knowledge spread across two or perhaps in the case of multilingual speakers, more than two languages.
So, when we think about how a bilingual speaker's language knowledge is spread across their languages, we have to consider several factors. Now, these factors are what researchers in the area of bilingualism use as they're guiding their determination of how bilingual a person is for lack of a better description. I'd like to walk through each one and for you to keep these in mind as we come back later to discuss how people in the area of stuttering have classified bilingual speakers in our literature. As you look at this chart, one of the first things that we have to consider when we're assessing the bilingualism of a person, is their language history. Relative to language history we have to think about when were they first exposed to the languages that they speak. We also have to consider which language were they exposed to first or whether they were exposed to both languages at the same time. Another factor that we have to take into account is to whether or not the languages that they speak and that they are exposed to- is that only in the home environment? Is one spoken in the home environment and the other one only taught at school? Were they both only taught at school? We also have to take into account if they were taught in the school environment only, then how many years that they've received this instruction. We see that with children who have learned one language in the home environment and then they go into the school environment and they're only exposed to another second language, that they tend to experienced language loss to that first language. So, language attrition is something we also have to take into account when we're looking at language history. The second factor that's critical to consider is language function. So, what is the amount of use per language? It's not only are they using it but how frequently are they using it. When they're using it, how many of those languages are they speaking within all of the environments that are unique to their everyday life? Are they speaking those languages in different environments? Are they speaking that language to different people? All of those factors will need to be taken to account when you're trying to consider how bilingual this speaker is. With regard to proficiency, keep in mind is that it's not just reflecting the speaker's ability to speak the language, but can they understand it when it's spoken to them? Can they read in that language? Can they write in that language? The next factor we have to take into account is stability. Previously, I discussed that we have to consider attrition, which is language loss that occurs when you shift from one environment that's focused exclusively on one language to another environment that's focused exclusively on another language. We see this more significantly in children who are sequential language learners and they've been exposed to one language in their home environment, and when they shift into their school environment, they're exposed to another language. Because of the fact that they're in school all-day long, only being exposed to that second language, they tend to experience language loss. That speaks to stability. We have to look at the degree of proficiency loss that they experience when they shift into this new environment and the age of proficiency loss. Mode is another interesting factor that we have to take into account in our bilingual speakers because as we're assessing someone who is bilingual, we need to have an understanding as to whether or not they are aware that the person who's assessing them knows either one of the languages that they speak or knows both of the languages they speak. If they are aware of that, that person who's assessing them can speak both of their languages, then they're more likely to engage in code-switching. If they do not think that, that person knows both of their languages, then they're less likely to engage in that; they're more likely to focus only on one language and that is the language that the person who is assessing them can speak and understand. Accent is yet another factor that we have to consider. The degree of a person's accent is reflected really of how much they've been exposed to it and the richness of those exposures. If they've been immersed in an environment where they've been forced to speak to native speakers of that language, then they are likely to have an accent that's reflective of that. If they are self-taught or have only been taught this language within an environment for which the person who's teaching them is not a native speaker of that language, then their accent will likely reflect that. Covert speech is another interesting factor. People who are bilingual often share that their inner speech is what is reflective of their native language. So, it's the language that they go to when they're being asked to complete non-verbal speech tasks. Finally, affect is another factor that you have to take into account. It's the language that they feel the most comfortable speaking. It's the language that they feel the least anxiety engaging in when they're speaking in a variety of different communication environments. It's the language that they go to when they're expressing emotion. You can see when you're thinking ahead towards stuttering why affect would play a significant role in the bilingual speaker who stutters.