Friday, July 14, 2017

A linguist discovers that Trump talks like regular people

No, most 70-year-old men do not fantasize aloud about how he likes to "grab them by the pussy."

But a Georgetown University linguist, Jennifer Sclafani, has discovered that Trump's speeches make him sound like a reg'lur guy (Bastien Inzaurralde, This linguist studied the way Trump speaks for two years. Here’s what she found. Washington Post 07/07/2017):

“He is interesting to me linguistically because he speaks like everybody else,” said Sclafani, who has studied Trump’s language for the past two years. “And we’re not used to hearing that from a president. We’re used to hearing somebody speak who sounds much more educated, much smarter, much more refined than your everyday American.” ...

The features of Trump’s speech patterns include a casual tone, a simple vocabulary and grammar, repetitions, hyperbole and sudden switches of topics, according to Sclafani.

As for the criticism that Trump sounds erratic when he changes subjects in the middle of a speech or sentence, Sclafani said that “this is something that we all do in everyday speech.”

“It’s just unusual to hear it from a president speaking in a public, formal context,” she added.
There is an accompanying video. Sclafini presents her findings as some special insight into Trump's political appeal.

She has a book coming out about it, which will presumably contain considerably more analysis and detail.

But the WaPo article and video don't seem to me to say much more than: Trump uses conversational digressions in his political speeches, and everybody else also use conversational digressions in everyday speech.

But in terms of giving any insight into Trump's political appeal, I'm not sure that actually tells us anything. And I feel reasonably confident in saying that most people, at least most people not seriously intoxicated at the moment, don't typically speak this way, as the President did this week talking to journalists about his Big Beautiful Wall (Excerpts From Trump’s Conversation With Journalists on Air Force One New York Times 07/13/2017):

One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.

And I’ll give you an example. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.
I would think that a more fruitful way to inquire into the effectiveness of Trump's speaking style would be to look at its similarities to the typical type of rambling and ranting that is standard for Rush Limbaugh and other Republican talk radio pundits.

It's also worth asking why Trump's use of this idiom in political speeches was evidently more effective than Sarah Palin's use of it.

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