Parsing “The King’s Speech” for Yanks — A Strong Case for Oracy

School Days, Education News

Robert Oliphant – Is “The King’s Speech” meant to cheer up unemployed English teachers? Certainly our first view of the elocutionist declaiming the opening to Richard III (including its reference to a Duke of York) tells us tells we’re headed for High Style, in which “men do talk with kinges,” as Chaucer put it.

After this come the tongue twisters and gross level physicality, paralleling Stanislavski’s insistence that the actors recite their lines while pushing a large grand piano across the stage.  Then we get the practical mnemonics via exaggerated prose rhythm, e.g. FOREscore and SEVen YEARs aGO/ our FATHers brought FORTH/ on this CONtiNENT a new NAtion/ conCEIVED in LIBerty//.

To come right out with it: “The King’s Speech” is not just a talking picture.

It is about the crucial importance of talk and talkers in high places, including America’s growing “great communicator” equation of Barak Obama with Ronald Reagan.  Surely it’s not altogether by chance that my wife and I saw “The King’s Speech” at the movies and came back that afternoon to find Time magazine in our mailbox — including its cover’s striking juxtaposition of Obama and Reagan as a pair of two big, lanky, lovable guys.

Even more striking is the film’s concluding emphasis upon talkers in high places speaking to their gigantic widespread constituencies: shot after shot of George the Sixth’s audience intercut with a shot of Adolph Hitler addressing a giant assembly of fanatically enthusiastic supporters. Surely it is this sense of current danger that makes the film so forceful and moving for Americans worrying about their future.

For our unemployed teachers of English, this sense of danger argues strongly for defining themselves as teachers of Speech, not just pop cult stories and overpriced textbooks.  It means more class recitation, paralleling the surprising success of Poetry Out Loud: up from 40,000 participants four years ago to over 200,000.

It also means more emphasis upon standard “newscaster” pronunciation and national vocabulary as represented in our four major college-size dictionaries, each of which offer the same 60,000 headword-pronunciation-definition combinations to personal best learners and test-takers — worldwide.

Call it Chinese English or Standard Worldwide American Dictionary English

(SWADE) — this is exactly what our unemployed English teachers should be teaching tomorrow, just as it is now the spoken language of countless offshore tele-salespeople in Manila, Mumbai, and Shanghai.

Granted that “The King’s Speech” is a whacking good lump-in-the-throat movie, American viewers and their leaders should also take it as a wake-up call, enough so to question our quasi  affection for multi-dialectal American Polyglot English.

English teachers and kindergarten teachers, parents and noisy windbags on high — all Americans should face up to the fact that their common language, Standard Worldwide American Dictionary Language, is now a global spoken language with far more speakers outside than inside Fortress America.  Why then should we not now each master it and use it with forceful dignity?


Robert Oliphant’s best known book is “A Piano for Mrs. Cimino,” the film version of which earned a Monte Carlo award for Bette Davis.  His current eBooks are available via

Used with the permission of Education