On a Speech Therapist

A few years ago, the film The King’s Speech brought the story of George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to the public’s attention. Logue found success helping the stuttering father of Queen Elizabeth with his life-long speech impediment. While Logue had no degrees or certifications and was thus dismissed by the profession as a quack, Dr. Felix Semon, on the other hand, was infinitely qualified as a speech therapist.

Semon lived and worked a generation before Logue, first in Germany and then in the United Kingdom. Technically, Dr. Semon was a laryngologist. That means he specialized in the breathing and formation of sound from what is commonly called the voice box. He practiced surgery as well as therapy to assist patients with such issues as paralysis of the throat and post-surgical voice recovery. His contributions to the field was recognized by King Edward VII (George VI’s grandfather) with royal honors.

One young man came to Dr. Semon in 1897 with a lisp. All his “s” sounds came out as “sh” sounds. Some other therapist had told the young man that he had a ligament attached to his tongue that forced his impediment. He came into Dr. Semon’s office to consult on the possibility of a surgery to correct the issue. After a short inspection of the youngster’s throat, Semon was astounded. There was no ligament, he told the young man. To put him under surgery could do permanent damage and possibly take away his voice all together. It was a good thing, Semon said, that the young man came his way before any rash decision was made.

This diagnosis and prognosis by the doctor came as such a relief. The mis-pronouncing of the “s” sound, while certainly noticeable, could be overcome, Semon said. Surgery wasn’t needed at all. The young man was greatly relieved. He came from a monied family, and speaking would be important in his chosen career. No, Semon told him, all he needed to do was to practice. He suggested saying, “The Spanish ships I cannot see for they are not in sight.” It was a practice the young man would recite for his whole life.

For his years of service to the nation and to his profession, Semon received a knighthood near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, and King Edward awarded him the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1902. He retired in 1911 and enjoyed ten years of leisure before dying in his German homeland. Upon his death, he was recognized as one of the greatest therapists and surgeons in his field.

And the young man with the slight lisp? He also had great success in his chosen field.

You know him as Winston Churchill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s