Is our pundits counting?

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Joe Davidson, "Foreign Service leadership being ‘decapitated’ and ‘depleted at a dizzying speed’", WaPo 11/17/2017:

Using “I” 42 times in his 23-minute speech Wednesday, he declared “NATO, believe me, is very happy with Donald Trump and what I did,” as he touted previous accomplishments.

Trump’s unmatched self-adulation might cloud his view of the hard work by foreign service staffers and their increased difficulties because of his administration’s hiring freeze.

Unlike the many op-ed contributors noting Barack Obama's alleged over-use of first person singular pronouns, Mr. Davidson at least counted, or perhaps had an intern do so. Whoever did it, they did it wrong — there are actually 47 uses of the pronoun "I" in that speech, as well as 10 instances of "my" and one of "me", for a total of 58 first person singular pronouns.

But more important,

  • The cited speech totals 2946 words, so the relative frequency of "I" is 1.60% and the frequency of  FPSPs is 1.97%, on the low side for a presidential speech discussing experiences on a foreign trip;
  • First-person singular pronoun proportions are not a useful indication of narcissism (or "self-adulation") — see Angela Carey et al., "Narcissism and the Use of Personal Pronouns Revisited", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, or Jamie Pennebaker's guest post on LLOG, "What is 'I' saying?", 8/9/2009.

It's true that in spontaneous discourse (as opposed to speechwriter-composed material with occasional spontaneous interpolations), Donald Trump tends to use first-person singular pronouns at a greater rate than other politicians, perhaps because he's less practiced at repeating chunks of precomposed speechwriting. But that doesn't excuse Davidson trotting out this meaningless cliché, which is as reliably empty as the taxi-driver interview.



1 Comment

  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 21, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

    If pronoun counts counted for anything, would it also make sense to include other references to oneself, such as "very happy with Donald Trump"?

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