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The Big Bang Theory: Physicists, Blondes… and SLP’s?

February 8, 2012

As a student in this program, I am quickly realizing that the studying, observations and learning that happen inside the walls of Corbett Hall don’t end when I walk out the door at the end of the day. For example, I find myself observing a parent interact with his child on the train, while listening for good language modeling and deciding which phonological processes are occurring in the child’s speech. Did that woman on the cellphone I just walked by have vocal nodules? Could that elderly gentleman trying to order Subway be experiencing word finding difficulties consistent with aphasia? Did that girl who is coughing just aspirate?!?

Watching television is no exception. One of my favorite shows is The Big Bang Theory, a show that follows the day- to- day lives of a group of 4 nerds and their beautiful blond neighbor. While watching one day, I came to the resolution that several of the characters on the show could benefit immensely from a Speech Language Pathologist!

Take for example Barry Kripke, the arch nemesis of one of the shows protagonists, Sheldon. His speech exhibits a phonological process called “gliding,” where the /r/ sound is replaced by the glide /w/. While the laugh track confirms that this speech difference is used as a humorous character quality, Barry would benefit from working with an SLP to shape the /r/ sound from /w/. However, gliding doesn’t seem to be a problem for Barry, and part of being a good SLP is working on issues that are priorities for the client.

Sheldon himself is another example. While Sheldon has excellent articulation, semantic and syntactical abilities (see example here), his pragmatic skills could use some work. As demonstrated in the linked clip (and throughout every episode), Sheldon fails to consider his audience in his explanations. Sheldon doesn’t modify his vocabulary or complexity, especially when speaking to the less-intellectually-endowed Penny. Sheldon frequently assumes that his conversational partner possesses a similar level of background knowledge and fails to take the other person’s perspective. An SLP could help Sheldon learn when to modify his speech to facilitate conversations and idea sharing. Additionally, an SLP could help Sheldon with social pragmatic constructions such as sarcasm and the puns his friends often make at his expense!

Finally, Raj, another main character, has his own set of speech related problems. As demonstrated in this clip, Raj loses his ability to speak in front of women, which could be considered a type of selective mutism. Eventually, when he does manage to get some words out, his pitch is unnaturally high! An SLP would be able to work with Raj, using some counseling and behavioural techniques, to get him to become more comfortable speaking around women (without the aid of alcohol), and in a more natural register. Raj would probably have to find an elusive male SLP to work with though, as I can’t see treatment sessions with a woman going very far!

Although having an SLP work with and treat the speech and language issues exhibited by the characters on the show would cut down on the laughs, as an SLP student it is still fun to imagine what might happen! Are there any characters on show that you watch that you think could benefit from an SLP? Leave a comment below!

– Adele Courchesne

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bobby permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:27 pm

    Really good read.

    p.s. those male SLPs aren’t THAT elusive 🙂

  2. Angela permalink
    February 23, 2012 8:20 pm

    Love this post. It is so hard to turn off that SLP ear. It’s a blessing and a curse 🙂
    I recently noticed that Kripke also glides his /l/ sound.

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