‘Fear of Giving Offence Makes Me Give the More Offence’: Politeness, Speech and Its Impediments in British Society, c.1660–1800
In the period c.1660-1800 there was an unprecedented interest in the spoken word in Britain, and for those who aspired to be polite, a new emphasis upon the sounds of their speech. But what did this mean for the lives of those who stammered, stuttered or had a lisp? How far were speech impediments experienced and viewed as disabilities? This article argues that in their quest for polite manners and refinement, the socially ambitious were prepared to invest time and money upon improving their speech. This created demand for the services of speech specialists, a new occupational group who forged their identity during this time. The consequences of their advertising techniques, which suggested that speech impediments could and should be overcome, are explored. Finally, this article examines how polite society set standards for listening and responding to the sounds of people with speech impediments. It argues that there were notions of the polite ear as well as the polite voice.
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