CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
Editor's note: The UI department of speech pathology and audiology will host
a reception in honor of the 91st anniversary of Wendell Johnson's birth at
4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, in the main lobby of the Wendell Johnson Speech
and Hearing Center.
For more information on the life and work of Wendell Johnson, access the
World Wide Web site created by his son, Nicholas Johnson, a UI law professor.
The Web address is http://soli.inav.net/~njohnson/wjhome.html
Wendall Johnson's legacy is reflected in work of UI department
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Wendell Johnson's pioneering influence and commitment
to better understanding speech and hearing processes is reflected today in
the work of University of Iowa speech pathologists and audiologists, says
one UI professor who studies factors related to stuttering.
Johnson, who helped create the department of speech pathology and audiology
at the UI and who played a key role in establishing the UI as a leader in
the discipline, would have been 91 years old on April 16. He died in 1965.
"His prolific research and writing career influenced numerous contemporary
approaches to the treatment of stuttering," says Patricia Zebrowski,
UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology. "In particular,
Johnson's work emphasized the importance of looking at the problem of stuttering
within the context of communicative interaction. That is, he saw the problem
of stuttering as a complex interaction between what a person does -- stuttering,
for example -- how listeners react to the individual's stuttering, and what
the speaker does in response to these listener reactions."
Johnson asserted that a key feature of treating stutterers was a close analysis
of this process, Zebrowski notes. Johnson believed that changes in a stuttering
person's beliefs and attitudes about speaking in general, and stuttering in
particular -- as well as the listener's reactions to their speech -- are fundamental
to changes in fluency.
Dean Williams, Johnson's successor at the UI, elaborated on this idea to
include the entire speaking process, rather than behavior associated only
with the moment or instance of stuttering. He retained Johnson's view that
people who stutter can be taught to speak more fluently if they direct their
focus away from what they perceive is happening to them and toward the things
they are doing that interfere with talking.
Zebrowski's primary research interest is in factors related to the development
of stuttering in children and its treatment. She teaches undergraduate and
graduate courses in the nature and clinical management of stuttering in children
and adults, as well as supervises graduate students in their clinical training
with people who stutter.
She also directs the stuttering diagnostic clinic at the Wendell Johnson
Speech and Hearing Center. Zebrowski says she relies upon many of her predecessors'
concepts in her own approaches to therapy, with the inclusion of more behavioral
"I have been involved in a number of research projects over the years
which have focused on the analysis of various behaviors produced by very young
children who stutter and their parents," she says. Currently, Zebrowski
and Amy Weiss, UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, are
involved in a study that will examine the effects different conversational
partners have on the speech fluency of children who do and do not stutter.
Zebrowski is also participating in an educational video project, funded through
the Stuttering Foundation of America. The finished product will be a training
video for speech-language pathologists who work with school-age children who
Advanced technology provides Zebrowski with the research tools to study various
speech and nonspeech behaviors. She and her colleagues use split-screen video
images of young children talking with their mothers. One of the video images
provides a frontal view of both participants on one screen, enabling researchers
to analyze subtle differences or similarities in the way parents and their
children talk. "The development of advanced and very user-friendly computer
software for analyzing speech signals also has made it easy to conduct fine-grain
analyses of speech production," she says.
When speech, audiology and related areas of study were developing at the
UI in the 1930s and 40s, a primary research focus was the problem of stuttering.
Johnson, who directed the program during the late 1940s and early 1950s, became
known for his research and writings on stuttering, which helped put the UI
at the center of study on this disorder. The value of this discipline was
recognized in 1956 when the program became an independent department in the
UI College of Liberal Arts.
The department has continued its progression and growth over the past four
decades. The Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center was completed in 1967.
Wider research and clinical services developed in the hearing sciences, language
disorders, mechanisms of voice production, cleft palate, neurological communication
disorders and other areas.
An interdisciplinary approach to research and its faculty has always been
a strength of the department, says Richard Hurtig, UI chair of speech pathology
and audiology. "We have faculty from fields such as neurophysiology,
bioengineering, clinical and experimental psychology, physics, linguistics
and otolaryngology," he says. "Many of the faculty hold joint appointments
in other departments. It reinforces the idea that scientific cooperation and
exploration is key to the future progress of identifying, assessing and treating
speech, language and hearing problems."