Most of us take our facility of speech for granted. We form words, sentences, and paragraphs with relative ease and think little of it in our daily conversation. For those with speech impediments, the case isn’t so simple. Rachel Kadish tells of her own story in the New York Times:
As a child, I had a relatively unusual speech impediment: I couldn’t form the sounds sh, j or ch properly, and this made a large swath of words difficult to pronounce. The word just would come out sounding like chust or shust; double-whammy words like church never emerged cleanly even if I squared myself and took a good run at them…Because I found this mortifying, I learned early to plan each word in advance. Given enough determination, almost any message could be recast in less perilous, albeit slightly formal vocabulary — vocabulary that might have seemed a bit peculiar coming from a child, but served me well. I never offered a suggestion or a choice, only an alternative; I never judged a playground contest, only decided or considered or even weighed it; I’d no sooner have used a word like challenge in front of my peers than I’d have ordered chimichangas.
Kadish goes to elaborate on the various strategies she learned to employ in order to avoid social embarrassment: weighing her words carefully, pausing to find the right word, or letting others fill in the blanks for her, cautiously side-stepping the verbal landmines that could be set off with a stray syllable. As trying as her childhood speech impediment was, coping with her challenges led her to develop linguistic skills that became strengths as a writer and a communicator.
In reading Kadish’s story I couldn’t help but find in a parable for the proclamation of the Church in a culture that has made Christian speech problematic. For many of us, the thought of pronouncing words like “sinner”, “Jesus Christ”, “salvation”, “mercy”, “judgment”–staples of the basic vocabulary of the Gospel–induces that same sort of social anxiety. Some of us fear, not so much mispronouncing the words, as being misheard.
You can go read the rest of my reflections on how the Church can learn to speak with a cultural-speech impediment over at Christ and Pop Culture.