Archive for Rhetoric

Presidential fluency

In a number of posts about Donald Trump's rhetorical style, I've noted how seldom he uses filled pauses such as UM and UH in spontaneous speech, compared to other public figures. For example, in "The narrow end of the funnel" (8/18/2016), I noted that filled pauses were 8.2% of Steve Bannon's words (in a sample passage from a panel discussion on The Future of Conservatism), and 4.0% of Hilary Clinton's words in a Vox interview, while three of Trump's unscripted rally speeches had between 0% and 0.05% filled pauses, and in a CNBC interview, Trump used 74 filled pauses in 5329 words, for a rate of 1.4%.

Like many others, I've noted how often Trump abandons a discourse thread in mid-phrase, sometimes returning to it after a digression, and sometimes just forging ahead with new themes. (See e.g. "The em-dash candidate" (8/15/2016) and "Disfluencies and smiles" (9/30/2016).) And I've certainly also noted his fondness for phrasal repetitions, sometimes literal and sometimes transformed or paraphrased, which is one of the factors leading to his low rate of vocabulary display. (See "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric" (12/5/2015), "Trump's rhetorical style" (12/26/2015), "Vocabulary display in the CNN debate" (9/18/2015), "Political vocabulary display" (9/10/2015), and  "More political text analytics" (4/15/2016).)

But I don't believe that I've noted, at least quantitatively, how rarely Donald Trump exhibits the type of disfluency where the leading edge of a phrase is rapidly repeated, sometimes to correct a pronunciation or inflection, and sometimes just as an apparent hitch in the speech production process. Nor do I think I've noted how little dead air (AKA pause for thought) there is in his spontaneous speech.

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More vitriolic rhetoric from KCNA

We've already had a taste of the crass, crude contumely that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) typically spews forth against the perceived enemies of the North Korean state:

"Dotard" (9/22/17)
"Of dotards and DOLtards" (10/4/17)

KCNA hits a new low with their latest denunciation of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe:

"North Korea promises to bring 'nuclear clouds' to Japan, mocks PM as 'headless chicken'", by Katherine Lam, Fox News (10/3/17)
"N. Korea threatens nuke strike on Japan, calls Abe ‘headless chicken’:  Abe’s comments at UN will 'bring nuclear clouds to the Japanese archipelago,' says KCNA", Asia Unhedged, Asia Times (10/4/17)

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British understatement of the week

According to HuffPost UK, although figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate that the LGB percentage of the population rose last year by a statistically significant amount, "the majority of the UK population still identifies as heterosexual or straight."

Phew! So the straights (unlike the current Conservative-led government) held on to their majority. Good. I was bracing for a wave of homophobe fury. But let's take a look at the numbers to see how close a call it was, shall we?

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Literally bigger than the phone book

The Edinburgh Festival season has begun. There are more than half a dozen independently run and temporally overlapping festivals, depending on what you want to count. But the biggest of all of them is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the entire world (I admitted in a Lingua Franca post to my love of the lowbrow humor of the comedy shows). I've often told people that the catalog of shows is bigger than the phone book for an average city — a claim that will be uninterpretable to many, since most of us hardly ever see telephone directories now. But I would hate for you to think that I spoke loosely. Let's get quantitative. Edinburgh does still have a phone book, published by BT (formerly British Telecom). It covers not just the city of Edinburgh but the whole Lothian county in which it sits. And the new edition just arrived. So I have the Edinburgh and Lothian phone book on the table before me, beside the Edinburgh Festival Fringe catalog. I have compared them. I have numbers.

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Resisting reunification

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Similes for quality of computer code

I must admit to having enjoyed the series of savage similes about quality of computer program code presented in three xkcd comic strips. They show a female character, known to aficionados as Ponytail, reluctantly agreeing to take a critical look at some code that the male character Cueball has written. Almost at first sight, she begins to describe it using utterly brutal similes. In the first strip (at http://xkcd.com/1513) she announces that reading it is "like being in a house built by a child using nothing but a hatchet and a picture of a house." But Ponytail is not done: there is more bile and contempt where that came from.

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Quantifying Donald Trump's rhetoric

David Beaver & Jason Stanley, "Unlike all previous U.S. presidents, Trump almost never mentions democratic ideals", Washington Post 2/7/2017:

The central norms of liberal democratic societies are liberty, justice, truth, public goods and tolerance. To our knowledge, no one has proposed a metric by which to judge a politician’s commitment to these democratic ideals.

A direct way suggested itself to us: Why not simply add up the number of times those words and their synonyms are deployed? If the database is large enough, this should provide a rough measure of a politician’s commitment to these ideals. How does Trump’s use of these words compare to that of his presidential predecessors?

At Language Log, the linguist Mark Liberman graphed how unusual Trump’s inaugural speech was, graphing the frequency of critical words used in each of the past 50 years’ inaugural speeches — and showing how much more nationalist language, and how much less democratic language Trump used than did his predecessors.

We expanded this project, looking at the language in Trump’s inaugural address as well as in 61 campaign speeches since 2015. We compared that to the language used in all 57 prior inaugural speeches, from George Washington’s on. The comparison gives us a picture of Trump’s rhetorical emphases since his campaign began, and hence of his most deeply held political ideals.

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Inaugural addresses: SAD.

A few days ago, I posted some f0-difference dipole plots to visualize the contrast between Barack Obama's syllable-level pitch dynamics and Donald Trump's ("Tunes, political and geographical", 2/2/2017):

Obama 2009 Inaugural Address Trump 2017 Inaugural Address

For another take on the same contrast in political prosody, I ran a "Speech Activity Detector" (SAD) on the recordings of the same two speeches, and used the results to create density plots of the relationship between speech-segment durations and immediately following silence-segment durations:

Obama 2009 Inaugural Address Trump 2017 Inaugural Address

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"Big mistake": Infectious rhetorical style

Josh Solomon, "Largest heroin bust in Hernando history comes with image of Donald Trump", Tampa Bay Times, 2/3/2017:

One pile of wax paper envelops that contained individually wrapped doses of heroin bore the name of El Chapo, the infamous Mexican drug lord.

Another pile had envelopes with the name of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Yet another pile had the name and likeness of President Donald Trump — a joke Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi didn't think was funny.

"All I want to say to this drug dealer is, 'Big mistake by putting the president's picture on this,' " Bondi said while holding up one of the little white squares. "Big mistake. Because he is going to be our most fierce advocate in taking this junk off of our streets. Can you believe this? Big mistake."

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Tunes, political and geographical

Over the past decade, I've noticed that Barack Obama's speaking style often involves short, definite-sounding phrases with steeply falling pitch. For an example, take this clip from his 2009 inaugural address:

I tried to quantify — or at least visualize — some of the temporal aspects of this pattern in "Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016, comparing Obama with G.W. Bush in terms of the distribution of speech segment and silence segment durations.

We can visualize (some aspects of) the associated pitch patterns by looking at dipole difference statistics of f0 estimates, as discussed e.g. in "More on pitch and time intervals in speech", 10/15/2016; "Carl Kasell: diabolus in musica?", 11/5/2016; "Some visualizations of prosody", 10/23/2016. This analysis yields a two-dimensional density plot, where one axis represents time differences and the other axis represents f0 differences. And a syllable-scale plot of f0 dipole difference statistics, from the whole of Obama's 2009 inaugural, does support the intuition about the preponderance of rapid local f0 falls:

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Vocative self-address, from ancient Greece to Donald Trump

Earlier this week on Twitter, Donald Trump took credit for a surge in the Consumer Confidence Index, and with characteristic humility, concluded the tweet with "Thanks Donald!"

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Really?!

My son, Tom, who is closely attuned to current speech mannerisms, explained to me the nuances of a particular way of saying "really" that conveys both incredulousness and disapprobation.  It's not the same as the rhetorical "really?" with rising intonation, but ends with a slightly falling intonation, or is nearly flat.  It means something like "you're not really going to do that, are you?" or, "you are dummmmb, and I do not approve."

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"On the difference between writing and speaking"

William Hazlitt, "Essay XIV. On the difference between Writing and Speaking" (c1825), tells us that

The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read.

And Hazlitt argues that the written transcript reveals the true emptiness of the speech:

The deception took place before; now it is removed. "Bottom! thou art translated!" might be placed as a motto under most collections of printed speeches that I have had the good fortune to meet with, whether originally addressed to the people, the senate, or the bar.

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