'The King's Speech': good drama - but accurate science?

February 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- "The King's Speech" is a compelling enough story to merit 12 Oscar nominations. (We’ll find out how compelling when the Academy Awards are announced Feb. 27). However, as contentions surface about the film’s historical accuracy (Lionel Logue’s grandson said his grandfather would never call the King of England “Bertie,” and the real-life Churchill, contrary to the film’s portrayal, staunchly opposed Edward VIII’s abdication), what about the film’s depiction of stuttering and Logue’s therapy techniques? Did the film portray them accurately?

“While stuttering and its treatment have been documented for hundreds of years, systematic development of effective treatment methods didn’t really emerge until the late 1940s,” said Doug Cross, associate professor of speech-language pathology and audiology at Ithaca College. “As depicted in the film, stuttering has been treated by using every technique you can imagine, from putting stones in the mouth to signing speech to physical relaxation. In that sense, the movie accurately portrayed the myriad of techniques available at the time, especially for an untrained speech pathologist such as Logue. An impressive part of the film was the way it accurately depicted the important relationship between the mechanical and psychological aspects of speech and stuttering. As much as the field has evolved and specialized since Lionel Logue’s day, most speech-language pathologists agree that focus on integrating the perceptions and emotions that clients experience about themselves and their speech problems with effectively modified mechanics of coordinated speech is an important aspect of treatment.”

Chief among those emotions is fear.

“Fear does not cause stuttering,” Cross said. “The roots of stuttering are complex and multidimensional, but anxiety and fear about becoming stuck on sounds and words and the stigma society often places on stuttering behavior play significant roles in the development and perpetuation of the problem. The more the person tries to hide, prevent or rapidly escape stuttering, the worse the problem becomes, creating a negative cycle of anticipation and struggle. This type of negative anxiety about performance and recovery from mistakes affects stuttering much in the same way it affects many other behaviors we experience in life.”

As it did with George VI, stuttering usually starts between two and six years of age. However, in many cases up to age 12, sufferers experience spontaneous recovery. After 12, though, the chances of spontaneous recovery dramatically decrease.

“Since Lionel Logue’s day, we’ve developed more effective protocols for treating stuttering and its impact on effective communication,” Cross said. “Advances in science and technology, such as brain studies and DNA analysis, tell us about the effects of neuromotor systems on speech patterns; still, there’s no silver bullet to treating stuttering, and there is no cure. I think it would be inappropriate for a speech pathologist to say, ‘We’ve cured stuttering.’ Its causes are much too complex. This concept eventually comes out in the film.”

However, contemporary speech pathologists can help stutterers find their voices, either by designing different methods of speaking that would prevent stuttering or by reducing the to the point where it is no longer a distraction.

“Stuttering is a communication problem that often makes both speakers and listeners extremely uncomfortable and anxious but at the same time fascinates them,” Cross said. “I think that might explain why ‘The King’s Speech’ is making such an impact.”

Explore further: SpeechEasy helps stutterers speak easily

Related Stories

Is stuttering in our DNA?

November 6, 2008

Bruce Willis, Marilyn Monroe, and Carly Simon all suffered from stuttering. Today, three million Americans do, too. Most are able to overcome the handicap, which afflicts 5% of all children ― but childhood suffering ...

Modern society made up of all types

November 4, 2010

Modern society has an intense interest in classifying people into ‘types’, according to a University of Melbourne Cultural Historian, leading to potentially catastrophic life-changing outcomes for those typed – ...

Professor says hate speech is akin to obscenity

January 25, 2011

Obscenity isn’t about sex, but rather about degradation, argues a Michigan State University professor who conducted a first-of-its kind study on the relationship between hate speech and obscenity.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.