Archive for Language and politics

New frontiers in pseudo-Freudian slips

Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, calls in once a week to the Mac & Gaydos radio show on KTAR in Glendale, Arizona. Her call on Tuesday 8/16/2016 featured this epic sequence, explaining why she doesn't think Donald Trump needs to run ads in Arizona:

got a strong message out there
and the people want a fighter
they're tired of the lying killer uh Hillary Clinton
and Bill Clintons of the world
vetted her now for thirty years

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Internecine strife at Language Log?

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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The em-dash candidate

Daniel Libit, "Transcribers' agony: Frustrated not by what Trump says but how he says it", CNBC 8/15/2016:

Few conventions in political campaign coverage are as straightforward and unassailable as quoting a public figure verbatim. After all, how can there be any doubt when you are putting down the exact words someone says?

And yet, as with many other parameters of the process, Donald Trump has complicated this, too.

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You know, I mean

Almost a decade ago, Matt Hutson asked me whether "there are underlying personality differences between people who punctuate (litter?) their speech with 'you know' versus those who use 'I mean' more frequently" ("I mean, you know", 8/19/2007). I wasn't able to offer any insight into personality associations, but looking in the LDC conversational speech corpus, I did find some associations with age, education, and gender.

Recently I've been transcribing some political speeches and interviews, and I've noticed that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are rather polarized on this dimension.

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The Second Amendment people

The controversial words about the Second Amendment that Donald Trump uttered at a rally in North Carolina yesterday are as follows:

Hillary wants to abolish
— essentially abolish —
the Second Amendment.
By the way,
if she gets to pick her judges… [long pause]
Nothing you can do, folks. [long pause]
Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.

Trump defenders are denying that this was an oblique encouragement to gun-possessing supporters to shoot Mrs Clinton. His own defense is that he was suggesting people should go to the polls and vote. Utter bullshit. This is perhaps Trump's most outrageous remark yet. He couldn't have blown the dog whistle much louder without being in danger of arrest for encouraging violence.

The three key linguistic points are (1) the reference of the noun phrase "the Second Amendment people", (2) the meaning of the modal adjunct "maybe", and (3) the function of the "I don't know" on the end.

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Into titties like right here in Detroit?

Matthew Cooper, "Full text of Donald Trump's prepared remarks to the Detroit Economic Club", Newsweek 8/8/2016:

Addressing the Detroit Economic Club is a mainstay for presidential candidates, and Donald Trump put a unique stamp on the event Monday. No Republican nominee in decades has given such a blistering critique of free trade and none has been met by so many protesters. (Trump opponents peppered his speech with shouts.) At one point, the mogul seemed to make a verbal slip, substituting the word “titties” for “cities.”

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Mildew Country

Here is a photograph of some Chinese anti-American protesters from "The complete guide to China’s propaganda videos blaming the West for almost everything", by Zheping Huang, Quartz (8/8/16):

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Political /t/ lenition

PolitiFact recently took up the case of a Donald Trump campaign video that shows Hillary Clinton apparently announcing her intention to raise middle class taxes (Linda Qiu, "Donald Trump wrongly says Hillary Clinton wants to raise taxes on the middle class", PolitiFact 8/5/2016). The crux of the matter is this passage.

I’m telling you right now,
we’re going to write fairer rules for the middle class,
and we aren't going to raise taxes on the middle class.

The Trump video subtitled it this way:

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"Donald Trump lives, works, eats…" what now?

Donald Trump supporter Sean O'Loughlin sent out a pro-Trump press release ("Dear America") with this bizarre passage:

When people on the news call Donald Trump a racist, I find that statement difficult to believe. Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker. Donald Trump lives, works, eats and employs people of all races and religions.

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Jagoff

Maintaining the theme of civility in this year's political campaigning, "Billionaire Mark Cuban rips Trump", CNN 7/31/2016:

You know what we call a person like that,
you know, the screamers, the yellers, the people who try to intimidate you?
You know what we call a person like that in Pittsburgh?
A jagoff!
Is there any bigger jagoff in the world than Donald Trump?

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Viciously

A few linguistic and interactional clues to Donald Trump's motivations, in his politically disastrous back-and-forth with Ghazala and Khizr Khan, can perhaps be found in some examples of his use of the word vicious:


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Up or down

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"But I was going to say that but now I won't say it"

One of Donald Trump's characteristic rhetorical devices is praeteritio ("passing over"), where the speaker says something by saying they're not going to say it. An especially nice specimen came up in a rally in Iowa on Thursday:


So should I hit these people? No I won't.
But so here's what happened.
So this very very great governor —
like your governor's a great governor —
this very great guy's a friend of mine calls me up.
How's it going?
I said man! I been hit.
These people are hittin me,
I'm gonna go — and I was all set —
I was gonna go, and I was gonna talk about each individual one of them,
I was gonna say that De Blasio's the worst mayor in the history of our city but I couldn't say it,
oh he's a terrible mayor,
probably won't be there too long cuz he's got problems like you wouldn't believe,
but he's a terrible mayor.
But I was gonna say that but now I won't say it.
But- but I was gonna talk about other people, so
viciously because I have so many things to say.
And he goes no, what are you doing?
I said, what are you talkin about?
He said don't hit there.

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