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Yes, Alan Turing Did Stutter

Despite appearances to the contrary in the film The Imitation Game, the latest of several bio-films and plays about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and computer pioneer did have a quite-noticeable stutter much of the time. How do I know? Because I saw a film of him lecturing that was spooled at the computer exhibit in the Smithsonian in the early 1990’s. The film was a segment of a lecture on the general operation of  computers and the possibilities of computers to assist mankind. It was clearly aimed at a general audience (probably the reason it was selected for display at the Smithsonian.) His stutter was what I would call “stuttery,” as he was able to move forward through the speech quite well, and was quite unaffected by secondary behaviors. But his disfluencies were continuous and interesting enough to me that I watched the film clip for 15 or 20 minutes. His sister is apparently quoted in her biography of  Turing as saying that the stuttering was “painful,” (which often means that it is painful to listeners.) An adult friend of Turing’s is quoted in that book as saying that “Alan had the most uninhibited stammer I have ever heard,” perhaps indicating that Turing had worked through his reactions to stuttering to the point that it just wasn’t a problem anymore; or had become so unconscious of it that he really didn’t notice it while he was speaking (which may be the same thing!)

Below is a YouTube video of Benedict Cumberbatch (that I found on the great Canadian Stuttering Association Web site) explaining how he prepared to play the role of Turing and how Turing’s stuttering was regulated to reduce its importance in the film, (and reduce the “jangling” distraction that would be introduced by stuttering) except for moments when Turing was under stress. The possibility that Turing may have actually stuttered less when he was stressed out or angry probably never occurred to the filmmakers. In the clip, Mr. Cumberbatch refers to an “audio” that the movie-makers tried to locate but was somehow missing. I suspect that may have been the one I watched at the Smithsonian — which may even still be displayed there.

I was frankly quite disappointed that a bit more of Turing’s stuttering was not included in the film. Though I was mightily impressed by Mr. Cumberbatch’s acting, this omission adds another historical inaccuracy to a film script that is filled with inaccuracies.  As it is, the film falls prey to the myth that stuttering is caused by nervousness or anxiety, and this results in yet another disservice to people who stutter.

Thank you to the Canadian Stuttering Association for the source article.

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