Thursday, November 3, 2011

Peter Stillman's Language -- Anthony Garuccio

The ability to communicate through spoken language is a feature that is unique to humans as a species. Language is a way for people to connect to one another and share common experiences. Since language is so core to the human condition and the main way though which we build ties that bind us together, many people often feel uncomfortable around people who cannot communicate in this same way they do. However, does this inability to share in the spoken language that is shared by our immediate peers necessarily lead to inferiority?

Enter young Peter Stillman. Stillman clearly speaks in a way that is dissimilar to the people around him due to the way in which he learned spoken language. To see examples of this let us look to the first time in City of Glass where Stillman has a sustained conversation on pages 15-16. When I encountered Peter’s peculiar style of speech for the first time, I had to read the passages over and over again in order to understand what was being said. The first thing we notice about the conversation between Quinn and Peter is that it is less of a dialog and more of a monologue. Peter speaks in long drawn out paragraphs with little interruption. For example “I say this of my own free will. Yes. That is not my real name. No.” It is almost as if he is answering the questions that Quinn would ask about his story before Quinn even gets a chance to ask them himself.

This brings us to another point about language; it is interactive. Spoken language is, most often, an exchange between at least two people, which results in the usual back and forth writing style that describes most dialogues. Even in the acquisition of spoken language it is interactive, we pick up on how to speak through our interactions with other people. Clearly this is the root of the difference between the way in which Peter and the rest of the world speaks. Peter grew up in complete solitude, so it makes sense that his form of language would be less interactive than what we are used to hearing.

Above we have pointed out the ways in which Peter’s style of spoken language is different than that of the people around him, but does this difference mean he is inferior to his peers. No, I think this unique style of speaking is the embodiment of Peter’s amazing ability to adapt and survive extreme conditions. Growing up without any human contact is very hard on the human mind’s development—consider for example feral children—yet Peter was not only able to survive this harrowing event but also master spoken language at a much later age than normal. His long monologue-like style of speaking is a direct result of his lack of human contact that has lead him to develop this way of sustained thinking without interruption by outside stimulus. It is this uninterrupted, “pure” stream of consciousness that could be considered, in the words of the elder Peter Stillman, “God’s language”.


  1. I really like your hypothesis that Peter 's style of speach, in which he poses and answers Quinn's questions, is a result of his extended isolation. However, I do feel like you spent so much time introducing the topic and describing Peter's speech that it took me until the conclusion to realize there was a point beyond that Peter Stillman has a type of language different than the norm. I do like the point you eventually make: that his ability to speak as well as he does is a testament to his abilities. I just wish i would have known that was the ultimate goal. Maybe this could have been accomplished by presenting a statement as opposed to a question at the end of your introduction .

  2. I agree with Alex, or perhaps I'd push what he's saying a little bit farther. This is *all* introduction. I also feel, on a related note, that the idea of his inferiority is a bit of a straw man; it seems very unlikely, in this day and age, that one of us would claim forthrightly that someone is inferior because of a difficulty with language. Which isn't to say that you shouldn't be writing about his limitations and how we respond to them - just that you haven't really found your argument there.

    One thing I note is your focus on the non-interactive character of his language.

    Question 1: Is this related to a disability, or a range of disabilities, which we might be familiar with in "ordinary" life (e.g., autism).

    Question 2: Is his spoken language functionally really like *written* language?

    Question 3: What does it mean for communication to be non-interactive, or one way? Is non-interactive or one way communication a larger theme in the novel?

    These are example questions - I could ask others of a similar kind. Clearly, I find your topic interesting and worthwhile, and your initial observations of the nature of his language are fine - it's just that your direction doesn't really develop notably from there.