Cluttering (also called tachyphemia) is a speech disorder and a communication disorder characterized by speech that is difficult for listeners to understand due to rapid speaking rate, erratic rhythm, poor syntax or grammar, and words or groups of words unrelated to the sentence. Cluttering has in the past been viewed as a fluency disorder.
Cluttering is a fluency disorder characterized by a rate that is perceived to be abnormally rapid, irregular, or both for the speaker (although measured syllable rates may not exceed normal limits). These rate abnormalities further are manifest in one or more of the following symptoms: (a) an excessive number of disfluencies, the majority of which are not typical of people with stuttering; (b) the frequent placement of pauses and use of prosodic patterns that do not conform to syntactic and semantic constraints; and (c) inappropriate (usually excessive) degrees of coarticulation among sounds, especially in multisyllabic words.
Spoonerisms, malapropisms, Colemanballs, and Freudian slips are examples of cluttering. Stuttering as a common term often refers to the speech disorder of cluttering, rather than to the speech disorder of stuttering. Cluttered speech is exhibited by normal speakers, and is often referred to as stuttering--this is especially true when the speaker is nervous, where nervous speech more closely resembles cluttering than stuttering.
Cluttering is sometimes confused with stuttering. Both communication disorders break the normal flow of speech. However, while stuttering is most often analyzed as a speech disorder, cluttering is a language disorder. In other words, a stutterer has a coherent pattern of thoughts, but can't say it; in contrast, a clutterer has no problem putting thoughts into words, but those thoughts become disorganized during speaking. Cluttering not only affects speech, but affects thought patterns, writing, typing, and conversation.
Stutterers are usually dysfluent on initial sounds, when beginning to speak, and become more fluent towards the ends of utterances. In contrast, clutterers are most clear at the start of utterances, but their speaking rate increases and intelligibility decreases towards the end of utterances.
Stuttering is characterized by struggle behavior, such as overtense speech production muscles. Cluttering, in contrast, is effortless.
To compare, a stutterer trying to say "I want to go to the store," might sound like "I wa-wa-want to g-g-go to the sssssssssstore." In contrast, a clutterer might say, "I want to go to the st...uh...place where you buy...market st-st-store!"
Cluttering is also characterized by slurred speech, especially dropped or distorted /r/ and /l/ sounds; and monotone speech that starts loud and trails off into a murmur.
Clutterers often also have reading and writing disorders, especially sprawling, disorderly handwriting, which poorly integrate ideas and space. A clutterer described the feeling associated with a clutter as:
It feels like 1) about twenty thoughts explode on my mind all at once, and I need to express them all, 2) that when I'm trying to make a point, that I just remembered something that I was supposed to say, so the person can understand, and I need to interrupt myself to say something that I should have said before, and 3) that I need to constantly revise the sentences that I'm working on, to get it out right.
Another clutterer wrote on an Internet support group:
I just seem to rush through the words, and often slur words together and/or mumble—and as a result I often have to slow down, concentrate, and repeat myself.
Cluttering and stuttering sound very similar to the lay ear, especially when they are at their worst. However, they are markedly different disorders and clutterers and stutterers are very different.
In the 1960s, cluttering was called tachyphemia, a word derived from the Greek for "fast speech." This word is currently not used to describe cluttering because fast speech is not a required element of cluttering.
Deso Weiss described cluttering as the outward manifestation of a "central language imbalance." In Weiss's book on cluttering, he used Central Language Imbalance or CLI as synonymous with what cluttering is described as today.
Over the past twenty years, Kenneth O. St. Louis, Lawrence J. Raphael, Florence L. Myers, and Klaas Bakker have been working to standardize a definition of cluttering. Judith Kuster maintains a robust section of cluttering resources and articles in her Stuttering Homepage.
The first conference held specifically on cluttering was held in May 2007 in Razlog, Bulgaria. It was called, "The First World Conference on Cluttering," and had over 60 participants from across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It was held in Bulgaria partly because of cluttering research efforts by Professors Dobrinka Georgieva and Katya Dionissieva of Neofit Rilski. Part of the conference was awarding the first Deso Weiss Award for Excellence in Cluttering, which went to Kenneth St. Louis for his contributions for understanding and knowledge about cluttering.