What do you call somebody who is unable to speak?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by audiolaik, May 21, 2008.

  1. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Hello,

    I am wondering what you, native speakers, call people unable to speak.

    I have found the following, but it says it is old fashioned.

    Thank you!
     
  2. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    Another word is dumb, as in 'deaf and dumb'. I have often seen the expression 'deaf mute' to describe the same condition.
     
  3. Parergon Senior Member

    Switzerland
    Italiano, Italia
    I would say that mute is correct, but you can also say dumb or unvoiced.
    Anyhow, I am not a native speaker, so please wait for further suggestions.

    :)
     
  4. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    A common term in AE is "speech-impaired."
     
  5. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Does this word not convey some negative connotations by any chance?

    Tom
    EDIT: I have just looked it up in my dictionary:
    3
    old-fashioned someone who is dumb is not able to speak at all. Many people think that this use is offensive

    So it looks like it is also partly of the same sort as mute.
     
  6. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    I guess "speech-impaired" is more modern, more politically correct but in British English "dumb" and (if the person also cannot hear) "deaf mute" are still used (as, of course, is blind, although again it is quite common now to see reference to the visually impaired).

    Actually, thinking about it as I type, "dumb" is perhaps not so common now and obviously has colloquial connotations (used, usually unkindly, to refer to someone of lower intelligence).
     
  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi audio - do you mean someone unable to speak because they've been brain-damaged or have some other medical condition?

    In that context I don't think we'd use either "mute" or "dumb", both of which these days usually refer to temporary speechlessness because of nerves, embarrassment etc.

    The technical term for the medical condition is, I believe, aphasia (adjective aphasic); in everyday language I think we'd say someone had lost the ability to speak.

    "Speech-impaired" would work.
     
  8. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    What I mean is a person who lacks the speaking ability, either due to brain damage or other medical condition.

    If one cannot see, we usually call this person blind. If one cannot speak, we call this person....

    I like the speech-impaired phrase.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  9. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    Pulling it all together, some of you might know the song "Pinball Wizard" where Elton John (or The Who, if you prefer) refers to Tommy as "that deaf, dumb and blind kid.." who sure plays a mean pinball.
     
  10. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I am extremely sorry for the confusion!!! Yes, we are talking about someone who cannot speak!


    PS Thank you, Loob!

    PS 2 Where is my whip, again?:eek:
     
  11. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
  12. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    Sorry, that was my fault when I slightly side-tracked to other terms which might be considered pejorative in this day and age. They were just similar examples to deaf and dumb or mute.:D
     
  13. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I don't think "speech-impaired" works as a specific term for someone who cannot speak. "Mute" may be marked as old-fashioned in your source but it's the word I would use.
     
  14. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish

    I will not pass the buck, Porteño! It is just my sloppiness!:D
     
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    On reflection, I think James is right about "speech-impaired": it's too broad.

    I still don't think I'd use mute (or dumb) though.

    After the accident, my grandfather lost the ability to speak.:tick:
    After the accident, my grandfather lost the power of speech.:tick:

    Since the accident, my grandfather has been unable to speak.:tick:
    Since the accident, my grandfather has been mute.:confused:
     
  16. xqby

    xqby Senior Member

    Santa Maria, CA
    English (U.S.)
    Since the accident, my grandfather has been a mute. :tick:

    An intriguing word: noun, adjective, and verb with no changes in structure.
     
  17. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't think I'd say that either, xqby.

    In fact, I'm sure I wouldn't :(
     
  18. xqby

    xqby Senior Member

    Santa Maria, CA
    English (U.S.)
    Is this because you are a mute? Har har.

    I'd agree that "lost the ability to speak" is probably a safer bet (and possibly more politically correct) but either of your examples, adjective or noun, sounded fine to me.
    Possibly continental differences.

    I definitely wouldn't just call people "dumb" though.
     
  19. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    If you don't have a problem with mute, Loob, then it might be "has become (a?) mute."

    If you used "has been" it would be "has been muted."

    I'm slavish to political correctness, I'm afraid. I'd go with "has become speech-impaired" and "speech-impaired person" or "person suffering from speech-impairment."

    And if you referred to the general population of people with global aphasia, especially those who are completely nonverbal, you would say "the speech-impaired." (Though I suppose it's not politically correct to classify them by this trait, you still hear, if memory serves, "The following has been close-captioned for the hearing-impaired" in cinemas.)
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  20. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    I guess we are talking about two different levels of usage then. It would still be perfectly correct for a doctor, for example, to write in his notes that "A is mute" (and this would be more likely than him writing A is dumb, which is almost inconceivable), but it might be unlikely that lay people refer to someone who cannot speak as either "mute" or as "a mute".
     
  21. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    But I do have a problem with mute:D

    El escoces makes an important point about different levels or types of usage. Context is everything (where have I heard that before?)
     
  22. lablady

    lablady Senior Member

    Central California
    English - USA
    I agree, and, like JamesM, I also would say it. I guess that makes me old-fashioned. Well, if the shoe fits... :p

    Perhaps the simplest solution is for the average person to say it just like it was presented in the thread title - "unable to speak". The context would make it clear whether it was speaking of a person with a physical disability or simply talking about a lecturer who couldn't attend a speaking engagement.
     
  23. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I think it would be "has been mute" as in "He has been mute since he suffered a stroke in September."

    Honestly, if I heard speech impairment I would assume that the person could still make noises of some kind, even if they were unintelligible. To me, "impairment" implies a retention of some of the function, just as "impaired coordination" is different from "complete loss of coordination."
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  24. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    To satisfy JamesM's reservations about "speech impaired", how about "speech deprived", in the case of total loss or impairment of speech?

    Or, "He has total speech impairment"?
     
  25. BAS24 Senior Member

    Tennessee
    USA English
    I would probably use "mute" as well. To me, "speech impairment" seems too broad. Like JamesM, an "impairment" could be anything from a slight studdering problem (like another word for "impedement") to a total lack of ability to form sounds. However, there is no confusion as to the meaning of "mute". "Dumb" is out of the question.
     
  26. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    If we must avoid "mute" I would go for the much simpler "he is unable to speak" long before I'd use "he has total speech impairment." :) I thought we were looking for an adjective. That's what I understood from the initial question. "Speech-deprived" sounds like his right to speak was taken away. I wouldn't use that, personally.
     
  27. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    There is also "aphasia, the lack of ability to speak, and "aphonic", the adverb for such a sentence as "Joe has become aphonic, since the explosion. He suffers from aphasia."
     
  28. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    The word has much broader meaning than just inability to speak, one of the previous posts gives, I think, a link to a website with info on that.
    Anyway, isn't this word too formal? Would for example kids who are in primary school understand it?

    Tom
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  29. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    (With apologies in advance) they might, if they weren't dumb...
     
  30. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    "Would for example kids who are in primary school understand it?"

    I very much doubt if they would, but such young children are hardly the yardstick for lucidity or accuracy.
     
  31. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    I'm sorry, but that sounds rather patronising, don't you think?
     
  32. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Perhaps, but if something is too complicated and overformalised even adults may have problems I guess. I was about to ask about something esle and probably I should have. Is aphasia, and any of its derivatives for that matter a word that would naturally come up in a conversation between laymen about a person who's mute or that would be used in the evening news aired on TV?

    Tom
     
  33. Eigenfunction Senior Member

    England - English
    I would say that aphasia is a medical term that hasn't made its way into common English usage. Given that it is also not strictly speaking the right word to simply describe a person who cannot speak for whatever reason, I wouldn't use it in this case.

    Personally, I wouldn't use dumb because it has for a long time had negative connotations, but mute as far as I'm concerned has no such connotations and is the right word to use.
     
  34. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    What about vocally challenged?:eek:
     
  35. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    It sounds like a bad singer. :)
     
  36. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I knew it sounds wrong, but learning a language is a process of trial and error.:D

    PS vocally arrested?
     
  37. BAS24 Senior Member

    Tennessee
    USA English
    As much as I've enjoyed this thread, it seems to me there is a word that works perfectly, has had the same meaning for very long time, and is unambiguous: mute. I guess we're trying to change it to be more politically correct. To me, this seems like a no-win situation because the PC terms change every few years or so. :)
     
  38. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    This si where we came in! So back to square one.:)
     
  39. audiolaik

    audiolaik Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Precisely, Porteño!:D


    A little bird told me the thread is going to be closed...sooner then we think:D
     
  40. Eigenfunction Senior Member

    England - English
    In my experience, politically correct terms usually last a few weeks before becoming either an innuendo of some kind or more insulting than the terms they were supposed to soften. This is especially true if schoolchildren or satirists are involved.
     
  41. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    How very true.
     
  42. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    I second that, Porteño.
    I'm afraid I couldn't quite be bothered to read the whole thread (it's late and I'm tired, and over-emotional) so this is probably repetition: the word I'd use is mute, Audio.
    Ewie is (a) mute = Ewie is unable to speak, for whatever reason.
    Ewie has become mute = Ewie is unable to speak as a result of having been hit very hard on the head etc.
    I say leave aphasia to the neuropathologically-minded, and speech-impaired to those who cannot bring themselves to call a metallo-xyloid excavatory implement a spade.
     
  43. rainbow84uk Senior Member

    Barcelona
    English, UK
    I'm familiar with the term aphasia from studying linguistics, but I'm fairly sure that it's not widely understood. I'd be most likely to say "can't/isn't able/is unable to speak":

    Tom hasn't been able to speak since he had the operation.

    But if we want a single adjective then I'd definitely go for mute.
    Lauren x
     
  44. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Aphonic refers to a person who has no physical voice (perhaps temporarily), but could possibly speak in a whisper.

    I would generally say mute except where it might seem to say something else, such as "dumbfounded" or "silenced". In that case, I would say "unable to speak".
     
  45. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I bow to the majority verdict, audio - go with "mute".

    It's still not a word I could use - not out of political correctness, but because I can't make it "fit".

    Mute swan - sure
    I was mute with embarrassment - certainly
    The brain damage made my grandfather mute/a mute - for me, just doesn't compute.

    I revert to El escoces's really important point: in some contexts, and used by some people, certain words are fine. In other contexts, and used by other people, they're not.

    It's funny how much more difficult this word is than either "blind" or "deaf".

    But to repeat: I bow to the majority verdict.
     
  46. rainbow84uk Senior Member

    Barcelona
    English, UK
    I totally agree with you that in the sentence given, mute sounds strange. For me the problem is that, because it's not politically correct now, mute is seen far more often with a figurative meaning than with its literal one, so when you see it you have to work out what exactly is meant.

    Somehow it seems a lot easier to swallow for me if the verb used is not made but left:

    The brain damage left my grandfather mute.
     
  47. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Rainbow, you're right.

    "Left...mute" is much more acceptable than "made...mute".

    I still can't, quite, accept "mute" myself, except perhaps as a technical term usable by medical people.

    But I'm going to shut up because, clearly, nearly everyone else is happy with it:)
     
  48. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    I would like to point out that the usage Audio is asking about, the usage Cambridge calls "old fashioned" is mute used as a noun, not an adjective.

    Aside from any other issue, I would never designate a person by his or her inability to speak. I would never use mute as a noun. I believe this is generally true of the speakers of AmE with whom I come in contact.

    As a practical matter, like several earlier posters and for similar reasons, I would usually say that someone couldn't speak, or was unable to speak, and probably offer some explanation.
     
  49. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Cagey, you've given me back my faith in myself - thank you!
     
  50. El escoces Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    English - UK
    I come back to my earlier point, it depends on the context and I can go as far as agreeing that you would never, for example, call someone a mute to their face. I still think a doctor might properly describe someone as a mute. And didn't the great British actor Sir John Mills play a mute in Ryan's Daughter? There, again, I think the word is safely and correctly used.
     

Share This Page