Yesterday, Science of Us ran a very interesting piece by Jordan Gaines Lewis about Hodor, the Game of Thrones character who can only say the word Hodor (his real name is actually Walder, but he got his nickname for obvious reasons). Lewis explained that there’s a real-life condition that can lead to these sorts of symptoms: expressive aphasis, or Broca’s aphasia. Usually, it reduces patients to a vocabulary of just a few words, but in some cases they end up with just one. (As the Mayo Clinic website explains, aphasia is a blanket term for a variety of symptoms touching on both speech and comprehension, with different versions corresponding to different symptoms.)
It turns out there’s a really interesting YouTube video (hat tip to my brother) of a man whose aphasia left him with only the word tono:
Two things stand out: First, the patient seems to not realize he’s only saying tono — he gestures and intonates as though he’s conversing normally. Second, at 1:45 whoever’s interviewing him asks him to count from 1 to 4, and suddenly he’s speaking normally again, though when he then tries to count from 1 to 20 he falters and reverts to saying tono.
These are both things that clinicians look for when evaluating an aphasia patient, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:
The speech-language pathologist (SLP) evaluates the individual with a variety of tools to determine the type and severity of aphasia. It includes assessment of:
•Auditory Comprehension: understanding words, questions, directions, and stories that are spoken
•Verbal Expression: producing automatic sequences (e.g., days of the week), naming objects, describing pictures, responding to questions, and having conversations
•Reading and Writing: understanding or producing letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs
•Functional Communication: using gestures, drawing, pointing, or other supportive means of communication when he/she has trouble getting a point across verbally
So, not surprisingly, a given patient’s aphasia symptoms depend a great deal on which parts of his or her brain were affected by the injury that caused the disorder. In Hodor’s case, he certainly seems to think he’s being understood. And — lucky for Bran — he can definitely understand other’s speech.