So the new England manager Roy Hodgson cannot say his /r/ sound 'properly'. The Sun newspaper has caught onto this and decided to 'mock' his speech for sounding slightly different with their running joke being to substitute a /r/ for a /w/ on their front page for two days last week. As speech and language therapists who work with people who have communication, speech & language problems we do take issue with the Sun newspaper and how they have chosen to pursue this line of 'humour'.
Not being able to make an accurate /r/ sound is fairly common. This is one of the later developing sounds for children and it seems that some people use an approximation such as a /w/. With some people this then becomes habitual and throughout adulthood they will use a /w/ instead of a/r/. Not being able to pronounce your /r/ sound is not a problem, it won't usually affect how clear your speech is and it in no way reflects intelligence or how good a communicator you are. In fact in the case of someone like Jonathan Ross this can become a big part of the person's identity.
So whether or not Roy Hodgson himself is offended or not by this approach from the Sun the implications are much bigger than that. Adults or children with a slight speech variation or any sort of speech/language or communication impairment may now be seen as an easy target to be bullied. As a society do we want to send the message that if you speak in a 'different' way that you can be singled out because of this? This type of comment can be laughed off by those that make it and they protest that anyone who doesn't laugh along has no sense of humour. Whether this mockery of Roy Hodgson's speech is funny is a matter of opinion but where do we draw the line? If we feel as a society it is acceptable to poke fun at a slight variation to normal speech production then what other speech/language or communication impairments are acceptable to be mocked?
As speech and language therapists we see on a daily basis the psychological consequences of people living and coping with communication problems and how these can severely limit their participation in family life, the community, education and world of work. To have individuals with these impairments to be in their community and feel judged for how they communicate instead of what they have to offer is a sad indictment of how journalists taking a cheap shot at someone can have significant implications for many.