2015-2016 — master project — School of Arts (KASK) Ghent

( ) = ) (

Stuttering as an identity.
Internal becomes external.

Can I visualize my train of thought?
Can I expose the core of stuttering?

    This personal project showcases the graphic dialogue between the stuttering and me. Project ( ) = ) ( explores the invisible, secondary stuttering and puts both the way of looking and the way of reading in perspective. My weakness turns into something positive, an identity I am no longer ashamed of. This project has allowed me to analyze the stuttering and to open up about the underlying and trapped emotions that come with it.

What is stuttering?

“Stuttering is what the stutterer does as to not stutter.”
Joseph G. Sheehan, 1975

Stuttering is a brain related timing and coordination disorder. It results in repeating and prolonging words, letters and syllables. Down below you will find some examples of different types of stutters.

    Letter ‘S’: prolongations 
    Example: sssssstudio

    Letter ‘P’: blocking
    Example: p  p  presentation

    Syllable ‘Jo’, part of the word
    ‘Jolien’: repetitions
    Example: Jo Jo Jolien

    The visible and audible repetitions, prolongations and blocking translate into the overt stutter behavior, the primary stuttering. Although stuttering is described as a speech impediment, this description does not include the deeper meaning of the disorder. The biggest part of stuttering remains hidden to the listener (Moerenhout & Reunes, 2015).  
    The secondary, hidden stuttering develops in elementary school, when as a child you start to become aware of your stuttering and attempt to speak (more) fluently. Through the years you develop behavioral patterns in order to avoid certain words and social situations, e.g. using synonyms to avoid pronouncing certain words, not picking up the phone when someone calls you, choosing a dish at a restaurant based on the words you can pronounce or asking the person you are with to order for you, avoiding certain social activities out of fear you will stutter,… Painful experiences and situations evoke shame and frustration. By using these ‘tools’ you are trying to hide the stuttering (and partially succeeding at it). This creates a temporary and liberating effect, however without dealing with the actual stuttering in itself.
    The more you are hiding the stuttering from others, the more pressure you put on yourself and on the stuttering. Whenever you are allowing the stuttering to happen and are accepting of it, the pressure to not stutter disappears, as do the habits to apply tricks, which creates a peace of mind. Along with the help of a speech therapist, you will learn how to speak more fluently and how to face certain stressful situations, using certain exercises and methods.

    To understand the secondary stuttering, it is important to showcase the core of the stuttering and open it up for discussion. With project ( ) = ) ( , I am introducing the hidden part of stuttering to the audience through a graphic identity.

B/W poster series & silkscreen
Format A0

1 — Dialogue

    Speaking can be compared to an assembly line, an infinite interaction between different people that never seems to end. From the idea of this dialogue, I assembled text into a continuous line, integrating three symbols which interrupt the infinity of the dialogue. The symbols I designed are each standing for a different kind of stutter: a repetition, prolongation and blockade.

2 — Personal words

    By integrating these three symbols as glyphs into the font, I created a personal and visual graphic language. In a list of my own commonly used words, I placed the symbols exactly where the stuttering occurs. This way, the stuttering sounds will be translated graphically when reading the words. I wanted to turn audible what is invisible and vice versa.

3 — Silkscreen

    I defined the importance of time intervals by using black spaces, with words between the spaces. The project is a silk-screen print of text in a transparent coating, with an emphasis on the spaces and with the silk-screen printed words subtly pointing to a dialogue with a friend. I extended the spaces that come before the words I have difficulty pronouncing, to show they take up more time when speaking, this in relation to the fluency of the text.

4 — Hidden

    I designed a double poster showcasing a list with different times of the day on the front side, and seven sentences hidden underneath the poster. The big, empty space draws the attention and represents the invisible stuttering. On a random day, I wrote down sentences I wanted to say, but didn’t say, being afraid I would stutter. It is something I did often, since it seemed easier in those moments not to say anything at all. Above a few of the words, I put the number of seconds it would take me to say the words out loud. Often times, stutterers know which words they will struggle with, since they taught them to themselves. Painful past experiences make us store the ‘bad words’ in our dictionary, the blacklist with words we prefer to avoid.

Secundary stuttering

    Paper till roll
    8 x 8000 cm
    Top: index list of titles
    – digitally printed
    Bottom: handwritten
    diary fragments

During the entire year, I kept a diary and wrote down my thoughts and feelings, from awkward stuttering moments to thinking patterns and avoidance behaviors.

Would it be a good idea if I say it out loud?
Maybe I’ll stutter, maybe it’s better if I just don’t say it.
Say something else, or no, don’t say it.
What will people think of me when I stutter?

    Someone who stutters develops a lot of behavioral patterns throughout the years. You learn to avoid the stuttering by using synonyms or by deliberately taking long pauses (secondary stuttering). These signify the bottom of the iceberg, the other 90 percent containing the thoughts and feelings. This shows that stuttering is much more than just a speech disorder. The bigger and more significant aspect is invisible to the outside. I wanted to display the chaos of my thoughts and wrote down all my diary snippets on a till roll. At the top of the roll is an index list containing the titles of my diary snippets. What is internal had to become external.


    This picture was the starting point for the project, designed to study and analyze myself. I went looking for memories from my childhood and stumbled upon old diary snippets and this picture. When looking back at this image, it now tells me something completely different than the actual story behind it. At first, it represented a picture in which I am posing with my dad’s new motorcycle helmet, however now it has become a reflection of my personality and this master’s project. It encompasses my entire being in one image. The helmet I am wearing does not only stand for protection, but also for the cocoon I am living in, my own realm of thought. The helmet has become the mask I have been wearing for years. As if I avoided myself because of the stuttering. Wearing the helmet reflects me hiding myself and the stuttering from others.


Moerenhout, C., & Reunes, G. (2015). Komen spreken over stotteren. Ghent: Academia Press.


    October 24 — 28, 2020
Zelfportret Stotteren (Self-portrait Stuttering)
— Zebrastraat, Ghent ︎︎︎ more info


© 2020 Jolien Demey