Muteness or mutism is an inability to speak caused by a speech disorder. The term originates from the Latin word mutus, meaning "silent".



Those who are physically mute may have problems with the parts of the human body required for speech (the throat, vocal cords, lungs, mouth, or tongue, etc.). Being mute is often associated with deafness as people who have been unable to hear from birth may not be able to use articulate speech (see Deaf-mute). A person can be born mute, or become mute later in life as a result of injury or disease.


Selective mutism is a disorder related to social anxiety in which people are unable to speak in specific anxiety-producing situations but speak fluently in more comfortable situations.

Hearing mutism is an obsolete term used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century for specific language impairment. [1]

Akinetic mutism is inability to speak (mutism) and move (akinesia). It is the result of severe frontal lobe injury in which the pattern of inhibitory control is one of increasing passivity and gradually decreasing speech and motion.

Coping with mutism

Some mute patients have adapted with their disability by using machines that vibrate their vocal cords, allowing them to speak. Others learn sign language in order to communicate.

In popular culture

  • In the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, the humans the astronauts encounter are all mutes, and the astronaut played by Charlton Heston becomes a temporary mute after being shot in the throat.
  • A character named Lydia, in the film The Others became a mute later in life before serving the Stewart family due to psychological trauma.
  • Dwayne, an angst-ridden teen in the film Little Miss Sunshine, is avowedly mute as a test to his will to achieve his goal to be a pilot.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus was said to have cured those who were referred to as "mute." In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus healed a deaf and mute man in the Decapolis.
  • The character Ye Hsiao-Chai from the Taiwanese puppet show Pili became mute after cutting out his tongue.
  • the main character of the 1946 film The Spiral Staircase, Helen, is mute.
  • In The Stand, by Stephen King, major character Nick Andros is both mute and deaf. One edition of the novel states that he was born without vocal cords or eardrums.
  • In Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Little Mermaid", the protagonist trades her voice for legs leaving her mute.
  • Rajesh Koothrappali (Raj), one of the main characters in the series "The Big Bang Theory" appears to suffer from selective mutism. He is rendered unable to talk or speak when women are present in his company unless he is drunk.
  • Zorro employed a mute manservant, Bernardo, who also aided him in his alter-ego's work.
  • The G.I. Joe character Snake Eyes is mute. According to the comics, this was the result of damage due to smoke inhalation and burns from a fire.
  • The Teen Titans character Jericho (Joseph Wilson) is unable to speak due to having his vocal cords cut as a child by one of his father's (Deathstroke's) many enemies. This is one of many reasons Jericho opposes his father.
  • In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, one of the main characters, Joey Peterson, never speaks until the end of the film.
  • In The Smurfs, a friend of Papa Smurf is a wood elf named Laconia, who is mute but not deaf. She and the smurfs communicate through sign language.
  • Cartoon cat and mouse duo Tom and Jerry are usually mute, but they occasionally talk or at least make vocal sounds. In Tom and Jerry: The Movie, they talk throughout the film. The concept was dropped in future films and the series Tom and Jerry Tales.
  • The Pink Panther is usually mute but talked in two shorts. He was voiced by Matt Frewer in the revival animated series.
  • Looney Tunes characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner rarely speak. Wile E. usually held up signs to communicate. Road Runner never makes any sounds but "beep, beep". The only exception in Wile E.'s case is when he appears with Bugs Bunny; then he talks with a proper intelligent voice, like in the short Operation: Rabbit.
  • In Shion no Ō, the titular character was rendered mute after her parents were murdered when she was younger. She communicates by writing everything on a notepad.
  • In the film Do Not Disturb, a mute girl witnesses a murder causing her to run for her life in Amsterdam. She can communicate by writing on a dry eraser pad and American Sign Language.
  • In Wong Kar-Wai's 1995 film Fallen Angels, the mute character played by Takeshi Kaneshiro claims in voice-over narrative to have been rendered so at the age of 5 due to eating a can of expired pineapple.
  • In the 1991 film Nothing but Trouble, John Candy plays the female Eldona, who is mute.
  • In the 1994 film Mute Witness, the main protagonist is a mute woman who's an FX make up artist on a shoot for a movie, and also witnesses a murder on the set of a porn film.
  • In the video game Alpha Protocol, the sixteen-year-old "Sis", is a mute.
  • In the video game Grand Theft Auto 3, the main character Claude is a mute.
  • In the video game Portal, The protagonist "Chell" is a mute. This trait carries on to its sequel.
  • In the video game series ,The Legend of Zelda, the main protagonist ,Link, is mute

See also


  1. ^ Page 6 in: Leonard, Laurence B. (1998). Children with specific language impairment. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-62136-3. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Muteness — Mute ness, n. The quality or state of being mute; speechlessness. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • muteness — (n.) 1580s, from MUTE (Cf. mute) (adj.) + NESS (Cf. ness) …   Etymology dictionary

  • muteness — noun 1. the condition of being unable or unwilling to speak her muteness was a consequence of her deafness • Syn: ↑mutism • Derivationally related forms: ↑mute • Hypernyms: ↑condition, ↑status …   Useful english dictionary

  • muteness — Synonyms and related words: anaudia, aphasia, aphonia, aphrasia, brevity, briefness, brusqueness, conciseness, curtness, deaf muteness, dumbness, economy of words, inarticulateness, jargon aphasia, laconicalness, laconism, loss of speech, motor… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • muteness — mute ► ADJECTIVE 1) refraining from speech or temporarily speechless. 2) dated lacking the power of speech. 3) (of a letter) not pronounced. ► NOUN 1) dated a person without the power of speech. 2) historical a professional attendant or mourner… …   English terms dictionary

  • muteness — noun see mute I …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • muteness — See mutely. * * * …   Universalium

  • muteness — noun The characteristic of being mute …   Wiktionary

  • muteness — (Roget s Thesaurus II) noun The avoidance of speech: dumbness, silence, speechlessness, wordlessness. See WORDS …   English dictionary for students

  • muteness — mjuːtnɪs n. condition of being mute; silence, quietness …   English contemporary dictionary