Andrew Malcolm, "New gaffe: Obama confuses Jews with janitors", LA Times 9/26/2011:
Here is what the president actually said, catching himself almost in time but not quite:
If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew, uh, as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor. I have no problem with that. […]
Maybe in Saturday night's speech Obama was thinking about all those talks on Israel in New York.
This has gotten quite a bit of play in the media as well as in the blogosphere. The trouble is, I'm not at all sure that Mr. Malcolm's version of the president's speech error is accurate.
The full audio, video and transcript are available from whitehouse.gov: "Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner". Here's the audio and my transcript for the relevant bit:
If- if asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate
as a [dʒũnʔ] uh as- as a janitor
makes me a warrior
for the working class
I wear that with a badge of honor
Here's just the phrase with the speech error in it:
And just the substitution error itself:
If you listen carefully with headphones, I believe that you'll hear not only nasalization of the [u] vowel, but also a short [n] (which is somewhat glottalized due to being cut off by his self-correction).
The nasal murmur is fairly clear in a spectrogram — I've underlined it in red in the plot below, which covers the sequence [dʒũnʔ] uh:
Note also the falling F2 in the first 30-40 msec of the "uh", which is consistent with a preceding coronal articulation (i.e. the [n]), but not with a preceding [u] or [w] off-glide, which should cause all the formants to be rising at the start of the vowel.
So my diagnosis is that Mr. Obama started to say a version of janitor with [u] substituted for [æ] in the first syllable, but cut himself off immediately after the error, and produced the word that he intended.
Why that substitution? I guess it's possible that there was interference from the word Jew — but I don't think it was a simple lexical substitution, because the nasal from janitor is apparently already there. And there's no obvious reason for Jew to be activated in that context. Of course, none of the alternative sources of lexical interference strike me as being especially plausible either — June? junior? juniper? jupiter? — but not every segmental substitution error has a clear lexical source.
At this point, I should repeat my long-standing conviction that speech errors, by politicians and others, are rarely if ever worth the fuss that they sometimes generate:
"Hand fisted", 10/14/2004
"Gibson scores a 'Bushism', with an assist to Kerry", 10/9/2004
"Stickler shock", 10/5/2005
"LInguistic mens rea", 10/6/2005
"Never anything but less than precise", 10/20/2005
"The Eternal General of the United States", 5/5/2007
"Republicans and Democratics", 6/7/2007
"Blunder maven speaks", 8/5/2007
"Name chain nomenclature", 4/19/2008
"The dangers of mental search-and-replace", 7/21/2008
"Political slips of the tongue", 8/24/2008
"2008 political parapraxis II", 8/26/2008
"Sarah Pawlenty?", 9/6/2008
"My fellow prisoners", 10/9/2008
"Hijab, hajib, whatever", 6/4/2009
"Racist sociolinguistics from El Rushbo?", 2/25/2010
"Aksking again", 2/26/2010
"Palin perseverates", 3/29/2011
"Speech error of the week", 4/8/2011