The big linguistic story of the past 24 hours, at least here at Language Log: an exchange between Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum about the rhetorical style of spontaneous speech, as it applies to the linguistic analysis of Donald Trump's rallies.
Archive for Prosody
Are we seeing the first signs of discord at Language Log Plaza? Mark Liberman seems to be flatly rebutting Geoff Pullum's "no structure at all" remark about what he calls "Trump's aphasia." Mark maintains that Trump's speaking style is no different in kind from any other human's spontaneous speech, even crediting him with "eloquence." Geoff, by contrast, seems to regard Trump as barely capable of expressing himself in human language. This looks like the beginnings of a proper scholarly punch-up. Is Liberman pro-Trump and Pullum anti? Have Mark and Geoff fallen out?
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I want to follow up on my post about Daniel Libit's presentation of reporters' and transcriptionists' complaints about Donald Trump's speaking style ("The em-dash candidate", 8/15/2016). Libit uses words like "unintelligible", "jumble", "inarticulate", and he is far from the first person to offer a characterization along these lines. A year ago, Geoff Pullum used words and phrases like "aphasia", "no structure at all", "barely a coherent thought" ("Trump's aphasia", 8/5/2015).
I've argued in response that these observers have been misled by "the apparent incoherence of much transcribed extemporized speech, even when the same material is completely comprehensible and even eloquent in audio or audio-visual form" ("Trump's eloquence", 8/5/2015).
In order to underline this point, I thought I'd exhibit a randomly-selected passage from another unscripted spoken-word performance by someone who doesn't speak in paragraphs. That description generally applies to the rhetorical tradition of stand-up comedy, I think.
So I picked a comedian and a performance at random — the start of a performances at Beacon Theater in 2013 (?) by the comedian Louis CK. And you'll see that the clip has many of the same characteristics as Trump's spontaneous performances — repetitions, incomplete phrases, digressions, …
In fact Louis CK is much less fluent than Trump in certain ways, such as a much higher rate of UM/UH usage and of fluent-self-corrections. But otherwise, the similarity is remarkable.
In the context of the current political season, I've started taking a look at rhetorical styles, including the aspects of rhythm, pitch, and voice quality for which linguists generally use the cover term "prosody". Our enormously over-long list of topic categories didn't include "prosody", so I've added it — and in the process of labeling relevant posts, I made a (probably still incomplete) list of linked titles and dates, which is reproduced below.
Yesterday I showed a pitch contour from one of Hillary Clinton's speeches ("Political /t/ lenition", 8/7/2016), and promised to take a broader look at her characteristic prosodic styles. But today I'm going to feature one of Donald's prosodic stylings. From the Trump/Pence rally in Des Moines, Iowa, 8/5/2016:
We're gonna use great business leaders
___to work with our generals —
we're gonna make great trade deals
___where we're getting absolutely killed —
___and other countries —
Donald Trump deploys this pattern rarely but effectively — and I'd be surprised to hear it from Hillary Clinton.
Following up on Tim Kaine's mocking imitation of Donald Trump's phrase "believe me", CNN put up a comparison:
— CNN (@CNN) July 28, 2016
My posts have been thin recently, mostly because over the past ten days or so I've been involved in the preparation and submission of five conference papers, on top of my usual commitments to teaching and meetings and visitors. Nobody's fault but mine, of course. Anyhow, this gives me some raw material that I'll try to present in a way that's comprehensible and interesting to non-specialists.
One of the papers, with Neville Ryant as first author, was an attempt to take advantage of a large collection of audiobook recordings to explore some dimensions of speaking style. The paper is still under review, so I'll wait to post a copy until its fate is decided — but there are some interesting ideas and suggestive results that I can share. And to motivate you to read the somewhat wonkish explanation that follows, I'll start off with a picture:
Following up on "Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016, here's a level plot of speech segment durations and immediately-following silence segment durations from William Carlos Williams' poetry reading at the Library of Congress in May of 1945:
As part of an exercise/demonstration for a course, last night I ran Neville Ryant's second-best speech activity detector (SAD) on Barack Obama's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2010 (50 of them), and George W. Bush's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2008 (48 of them). The distributions of speech and silence durations, via R's kernel density estimation function, look like this:
In my limited experience of French hiphop, I've gotten the impression that it's rhythmically rather "square", in the sense that the syncopations or polyrhythms that are common in the corresponding American genres are relatively rare. As a first tentative step in evaluating this (perhaps quite wrong) idea, I analyzed the word-to-beat alignments of MC Solaar's popular 2001 piece Solaar Pleure. Here's the official video on YouTube:
And there's a set of annotated lyrics at genius.com.
It would seem natural that all languages have diminutives, but how diminutives are formed in different languages must vary considerably. In most cases that I'm aware of in Indo-European languages, the addition of a special suffix denoting smallness or connoting endearment is typical, but in other cases there are more complicated mechanisms at play. The most elaborate system of diminutives I know of is Russian, where common given names are not only made into diminutives in irregular ways, they are then profusely elaborated (with some forms indicating doubled diminutiveness): thus, Aleksander –> Sasha, Sashka, Sashen'ka, Sashechka, Sanya, Shura, Sashok. Keeping track of all these variants was always one of the biggest challenges I faced in reading Russian novels. Read the rest of this entry »
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Thanks to Bob Kennedy, I was able to find the full Jeopardy shows from November 23-24, and pull out the segments where the hosts "chats" with contestant Laura Ashby, whose in-game response's prosody ate the internet for a couple of days just before Thanksgiving ("Jeopardy gossip", 11/25/2015).
Here they are:
The internet has been working hard at providing Deborah Cameron with material for a book she might write on attitudes towards women's voices. (Background: "Un justified", 7/8/2015; "Cameron v. Wolf" 7/27/2015.)
To see what I mean, sample the tweets for #JeopardyLaura, or read some of the old-media coverage, like "Is this woman the most annoying 'Jeopardy!' contestant ever?", Fox News 11/24/2015:
"Jeopardy!" contestant Laura Ashby is causing quite a stir on social media. The Marietta, Georgia, native isn't getting attention for her two-day winning streak but instead the tone of her voice.
Ashby first appeared on the competition show on Nov. 6 and when she returned this week the Internet went crazy over her voice.
Several tweeters went out of their way to exemplify Cameron's observation that "This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance":
— Alive In Philly (@AliveInPhilly) November 25, 2015