Dysarthria or dentures?

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There's been a lot of media attention paid to some slurring of speech in Donald Trump's recent announcement about moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, especially this passage:

Most of the focus has been on his pronunciation of "the United States" in the peroration (though there were some issues with sibilants elsewhere in the speech):

Some of the media coverage (warning — autoplay in many cases): "Did President Trump slur his speech?"; "'Daily Show' mocks Trump's pronunciation: 'The president of the United Shtates recognizes Jeroozhum'"; "PRESIDENT TRUMP ON RETAINER?"; "President Donald Trump's newfound lisp sets internet aflame"; "Did President Trump slur his Jerusalem speech? You be the judge"; "Trump slurs his words in a public speech, sparking health concerns"; "Does Trump Wear Dentures? President Mocked For Slurred Jerusalem Speech"; "Donald Trump slurs speech during jerusalem announcement, sparking health speculation"; etc.

As those headlines suggest, areas of speculation included neurodegenerative disorders and loose dental appliances. The trending hashtag #DentureDonald indicates that most people agree with me in suspecting a dental-fixture problem — or at least that Trevor Noah has a lot of fans — but the White House offered another explanation: "White House says Trump slurred during his speech about Jerusalem because his throat was dry".


  1. Todd said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 7:35 am

    (Take this with as much or as little salt as you like, but)

    Many are also engaging in amateur graphology in this debate, comparing his signature yesterday to previous ones: [https://twitter.com/GraellsiaMoon/status/938512838259245058?s=09]

    If this holds any water, it's evidence for a neurological/neurochemical explanation, not a dental one.

    And, on a completely unrelated note: [https://i.imgur.com/8S73Y.png]

  2. Aaron Toivo said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 7:39 am

    Though I am not enough of a phonologist to pick out specifics, my ear here is picking up a widening of the oral cavity of the sort meant to allow continued speech despite some obstruction that can be little else but food in the mouth or a dental appliance issue.

  3. Theophylact said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 9:47 am

    Trump talk with his mouth full of food? No, no, I'm sure he's much too well-brought-up for that.

  4. Sidney Wood said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 11:55 am

    Mouth dry? I imagine more fluid would only worsen the slurring.

  5. GeorgeW said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

    At least it wasn't a racial slur. This time.

  6. JPL said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

    Did he slip a lozenge into his mouth at some point during the speech? (Recall the "drink of water" case a little while ago.)

  7. Joyce Melton said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

    Sounds like he was suppressing a burp to me.

  8. JPL said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 6:08 pm

    From my memory of the clip as I saw it last night (I'm unable to play the audio right now), it appeared that in his production of sibilants he was not making complete closure with his tongue on his left side, thus air was escaping laterally, which could be due to an object (like a lozenge) preventing closure (lateral vs central alveolo-palatal fricative). I would guess that dry mouth would maybe result in the sibilant being produced as a stop.

  9. Acilius said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 6:09 pm

    I suppose it could be a neurological condition that just happens causes precisely the same disfluency that occurs when dentures slip. That seems especially likely if Don John of Astoria does wear dentures and is doing the same thing with the tip of his tongue when he feels the unfamiliar neurologically-based sensation that he had done in the past when he felt his dentures slipping.

  10. Theophylact said,

    December 7, 2017 @ 8:50 pm

    Why would a billionaire need dentures? Surely he can afford dental implants. I can, and I'm a lot poorer than Trump.

    Of course, he may be afraid of dentists.

  11. JPL said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 3:10 am

    I've seen the clip again. If it's not a lozenge or something in his mouth, then there's something about his control of his tongue. His tongue does not appear to be operating properly. Articulation of /l/ in "political" is also affected. I don't think it was dryness of mouth.

  12. ajay said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 5:19 am

    It sounded almost comically like someone with dentures slipping out of place. The kind of thing that was a fixture in Ealing comedies, for example.

  13. ajay said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 5:22 am

    Posted before I saw the photo of his latest signature. That's all over the place. Clearly Mueller's been using every means at his disposal. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/guy-fawkes-day-heres-signature-105515602.html

  14. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 10:35 am

    It sounds to me as though he's saying "the united church" with some interference from a parallel thought.

  15. James Kabala said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

    I just wanted to note my respect for Dr. Lieberman that he always discusses these issues fairly and impartially (dating back to the days of the Bushisms).

  16. Rube said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

    @James Kabala: Indeed, the lack of cheap shots, regardless of who is being discussed, is rare and admirable.

  17. JPL said,

    December 8, 2017 @ 5:48 pm

    Any speech pathologists in the audience? I don't think it's dry mouth, loose dentures or lozenge.

  18. Rodger C said,

    December 10, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

    When I first saw "dysarthria," I thought the post was going to be about improper use of articles.

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