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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movies & Madness: The King's Speech

I got to watch this movie this past weekend on a date night (yes!) and was unbelievably moved. Colin Firth deserved the Golden Globe award he got Sunday for his portray of King George XI of England.

Here's a short blurb from the International Movie Database:

The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

While I would love to rant about the psychological undertones and awful backstory (read: childhood, because he was a real person) King George had, I don't want to give anything away. But, from the blurb and movie trailers, you can determine that the king suffered from a condition they called stammering back then.

If Bertie, the Duke of York, had lived in today's time, he would have been diagnosed with Stuttering.
This is a disorder usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. There are two main criteria: 1) disturbance in the normal fluency and time patterning of speech and 2) the disturbance interferes with academic or occupational achievement or with social communication.

What is fluency? According to Stephen B. Hood, editor of Stuttering Words (1997), fluency encompasses several things: the ability to talk with normal levels of continuity, rate, rhythm, and effort. It involves the smoothness with which units of speech (sounds, syllables, words, phrases) flow together. 

So the best way to recognize non-fluent speech is listening for abnormally broken or slow speech, or speech that takes entirely too much effort on behalf of the speaker (and the listener). 

The DSM-IV lists 8 different occurrences that can disturb fluency. A person only has to have one to meet the criteria of stuttering:

(1) sound and syllable repetitions, such as "buh-buh-buh-banana"
(2) sound prolongations, such as "aaaaaaaple"
(3) interjections, such as "um," "uh," "ah," "well, you know"
(4) broken words, such as "pic--[pause]--ture"
(5) audible or silent blocking, which is when the person is speaking but nothing is coming out because there is a stoppage of air, either at the larynx, lips, or tongue
(6) circumlocutions, which is substituting easier-to-say words for problem ones (think of this as the game of Taboo where you would say any word but the word at the top of the card to avoid getting buzzed)
(7) words produced with an excess of physical tension
(8) monosyllabic whole-word repetitions, such as "I-I-I-I see him" (what we stereotypically think of as stuttering)

Quite astounding, really, that any one of the above would mean you could be a stutterer. Don't tell me that you didn't learn something just then!

But what makes The King's Speech even better was that his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, takes Bertie deep into his inner demons, to face them head on. He presupposes that no infant is born as a stammerer. It's something that comes on around age 4 or 5, and he believed trauma/anxiety have a lot to do with it. Not to ruin anything, but this is where the heartbreak came for me. Truly amazing what this man overcame and endured, to end up thriving and prospering as the King of England.

This is still a major research topic today, and many researchers believe a criteria about anxiety should be added to the next issue of the DSM, which would be the DSM-V. You can download a scholarly article about chronic anxiety and stammering here if you're interested.

Hope you enjoyed some yummy pictures of Colin Firth. He deserves to be celebrating this week. He was amazing in this film. I highly recommend it.

Q4U: Have any of you watched this? What did you think? More importantly, did you cry like a baby as I did?

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Jennifer Shirk said...

Interesting! I SO want to see this movie! Love Colin Firth...

Melissa Gill said...

Saw this movie last night. LOVED IT. Really well done. Everyone of the lead actors was fantastic. Poor guy was told to smoke to relax his larynix, and wound up dying not long after having a lung removed because of lung cancer. (This isn't in the movie.)

I thought it was quite an interesting illustration of the isolation of the monarchy from the people that they "rule" and the way they feel about their place in society.

Sierra Gardner said...

I sooooooo want to watch this movie! As a side note, I was watching a PBS video on bird song (nerd - I know!) and apparently birds also can have stuttering disorders. Here's the link if you are interested!

Keli Gwyn said...

The movie sounds great. I'm adding to our Netflix queue.

I had no idea that the use of crutch words--which is what we call the ums, ands, and you knows the Grammarian at my Toastmaster meeting counts--is one of the symptoms of stuttering. In that case, a large percentage of the population qualifies.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.