Sarah Pawlenty?

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Adding to the growing corpus of speech errors connected to the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign,  we have Jo Ann Davidson, Co-Chairman of the Republican National Committee, at the Republican convention in St. Paul, 9/2/2008:

We are holding a convention to ((el- )) nominate a Republican woman governor, Sarah Pawlenty, our next vice president!

Ms. Davidson's substitution of "Pawlenty" for "Palin" is a bit more suprising, and thus perhaps a bit more meaningful, than the other word-substitution errors that we've noted recently:

"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
"Sound change in action", 9/5/2008

Tim Pawlenty is a governor, like Sarah Palin; his name, like hers, starts with 'P'; and he was on the short list for John McCain's VP pick. So this substitution has an array of characteristics that are often associated with such errors — the same part of speech, with a strong contextual association, and a shared initial sound.

But I doubt that many of us would have made this slip, since "Pawlenty" is not a very psychologically active word for us, even in the context of naming the Republican vice-presidential candidate last Tuesday. So when I first heard this, I wondered whether it might be a genuinely "Freudian" slip, in the sense that it tells us something non-obvious about Ms. Davidson's state of mind.

But on reflection, it seems to me that this is probably not true. Mr. Pawlenty is the governor of Minnesota, the state that hosted the Republican convention, so that Ms. Davidson is likely to have been hearing and using his name over the previous few days, and probably even talking with him, quite independent of his status as a competitor to Sarah Palin.

The remaining point of interest in this case is that Ms. Davidson didn't correct herself. I wonder whether this is because she didn't notice the slip, or whether she was too embarrassed to follow the applause with a revision.


  1. marie-lucie said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 9:10 am

    Pawlenty and Palin share more than just an initial consonant: p, l, n.

  2. Tory Fell said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 10:38 am

    I'm waiting for the speaker who substitutes Terry Jones or Eric Idle for Sarah Palin.

  3. nate said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    alternatively, could she be uttering "that will" – at such a rate of speech that it contracts on itself (?) and loses the initial fricative, turning instead into an voiced alveolar with a semivowel, followed by schwa then the liquid > ['dowəl]…? That /o/ sounds more [o] and less [u]. Where's she from?

  4. Alexandra said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 11:20 am

    My theory when I first heard this was that it wasn't a "slip," but an error caused by genuine confusion. Perhaps Davidson temporarily forgot Palin's name, remembered that it started with "P" (or perhaps even that it started with "Pa" or contained an "n" and an "l"), retrieved "Pawlenty," then crossed her fingers and hoped that she got it right. This would explain why she didn't correct herself. Watching this clip reminded of the time I was talking to someone from Nepal and asked him about Timbuktu. I remembered that the city I was looking for was either "Timbuktu" or "Kathmandu," chose the wrong one, realized as soon as it left my lips that I probably picked wrong, but decided not to correct myself on the off chance that it was right after all. When I watch this clip, I can almost see a "deer in the headlights" look on her face between when she finishes speaking ("Oh God, did I get it wrong?") and when she starts clapping ("They're all applauding, it must be right.") Then again, I'm probably imagining it.

  5. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 11:44 am

    Perhaps she was satisfied with the communicative intent of her message (which the audience clearly understood), and thus felt no need to correct the speech error. A question that is always in the back of my mind: does "Sarah Pawlenty" in this case truly pick out Sarah Palin from the universe of discourse because of the speaker's intent, or does the reference fail, and the only reason we understand is that we are able to recover the meaning of what was intended?

  6. Wayne Leman said,

    September 6, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

    I noticed her slip also. I also noticed that she seemed to strain a bit trying to read her text or the teleprompter at that point. She did get it right a few paragraphs later in her speech, but even then it seemed like she had to focus to get it right. I got the feeling that she wasn't used to saying "Palin." Now, of course, it rolls off people's tongues quite easily, more easily than "Pawlenty" for millions of folks. What a difference a few days make for the lexicon of a language!

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