Using the Practice Theory Approach to Language, this dissertation examines how social actors use communicative practices within activities to constitute a communicative context that I call the American English Stuttering Speech Community (AESSC). Building on previous linguistic research on stuttering and sociological research on collectives of persons-who-stutter, I expand upon and diverge from many of the available analytical models and conceptual frameworks. Contrary to previous work in linguistics and speech pathology that locates stuttering as a disability, I argue for conceptualizing stuttering as sociolinguistic variation (i.e., linguistic behavior partly driven by social context). Moreover, I extend previous ethnographic research in sociology that positions collectives of persons-who-stutter (PWS) as "self-help groups." I reposition these collectives as part of a broader "speech community," which entails participation in particular discursive activities in addition to sharing linguistic form. The dissertation, thus, analyzes the AESSC as a communicative context established by numerous groups over time that (1) organize around stuttering as a kind of linguistic variation and (2) develop speech genres and activities that reconfigure the interactional identities of "speaker" and "hearer," and other facets of social organization.
To develop this argument, I analyze data from audio-visual recordings and transcripts of face-to-face, naturally-occurring interactions of meetings from three California chapters in the "Stuttering Organization of America" (SOA, pseudonym). My dissertation is structured in the following manner. Chapter One introduces the research question, analytical framework, and relevant background literature used in the study. Building off a previously unexplored hypothesis by Landar (1961), Chapter Two argues for a linguistic analysis of stuttering forms as variational duplication and uses field recordings of naturally-occurring interaction. This chapter also presents a formal definition of stuttering as variation, with a specific focus on American Stuttering English (ASE). Chapters Three and Four analyze two routine genres in SOA as socioculturally-situated activities that are interdiscursive with and provide new perspectives on prior types of speech events. "Introductions" (Chapter Three) allow ASE speakers to re-negotiate the act of saying one's name, construct a self within interaction that signals the stance "I am more than my speech," or complex personhood, and constitute interactants as members of the community. The "talking circle" (Chapter Four) analysis demonstrates how interactants use verbal art (e.g., narrative) as performance to implicitly recreate aesthetics of good/bad speech, jointly negotiate evaluations of one's linguistic style, and, indirectly, produce an alternative linguistic market that recognizes ASE speakers as effective public speakers. Finally, I analyze how social actors, through media literacy practices within face-to-face and computer-mediated discourse practices, negotiate different alignments towards each other, their speech, and representations of their speech through mainstream media genres (e.g., jokes and human-interest stories featured in films and electronic media). Chapter Six summarizes the findings and suggests the theoretical, conceptual and methodological implications of the work.
In sum, using the AESSC as a case study, the dissertation contributes insights to linguistic anthropology. This study analyzes how persons, in a particular sociohistorical context, jointly accomplish (a) the construction of linguistic forms and their multiple meanings; (b) the discursive activities of which these forms are a part of; and (c) the identities and collectives that these activities constitute.