Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is There A Disfluency Gap?

Watching the health care debate on C-SPAN I find Nancy Pelosi's speaking style to be jarringly disfluent, at least as much so as George W. Bush's ever was (or Sarah Palin for that matter) yet I don't recall Pelosi being as criticized as they were. My hotel internet connection is not fast enough for me to YouTube around for examples of Pelosi speaking extemporaneously, but I suspect you can find these examples easily and I suspect you'll see what I mean.

Is this a partisan issue? Are Republicans more likely to be criticized for speech errors than Democrats?

The folks at Language Log have discussed the politics of speech errors many times (see THIS post which includes links to many others) and it's worth quoting Liberman: "Everyone commits speech errors...and anyone who makes a big deal about particular examples is either a fool or a hypocrite."

My gut reaction is that there are many fools and hypocrites reporting on our politicians ... surely I am the first to uncover this rare gem of insight.

NOTE: I make no political point by bringing this up other than to ask if there is a statistical difference between the likelihood that a Republican figure will be criticized for speech errors and the likelihood that a Democrat will be criticized for speech errors. My intuition is that there is a difference, and that difference leans towards Republicans being more likely to be criticized. I caution the reader against trying to infer my own political beliefs from this post.

8 comments:

Tom Noir said...

Oh, I don't know. My esteemed local House representative Corrine Brown has frequently been recognizedfor her unusual speaking abilities. She's a Democrat who has had a firm grip on the district for years.

Maybe the truth is that fluency and speaking ability doesn't have as much impact on a politician's electability as people think it should.

Theodore said...

Maybe it's not so much "Republicans being more likely to be criticized," but Republicans being less likely to do the criticizing, since it would be perceived as "elitist."

Anonymous said...

"Republicans being less likely to do the criticizing"? I don't think so. What about talk radio?

Chris said...

@Tom, yep, no doubt I had a sampling error, hehe.

@Theordore, you've got an interesting point. They're prisoners of their image a bit.

@Anonymous, Certainly Republicans like to criticize, but they're selective. I think Theodore is on to something.

jaylake said...

I suspect there's also a politics to disfluency. Speakers such as Palin and Bush 43 seek to identify with ordinary Americans in deliberately casual usage. This in turn prompts their critics (full disclosure, I am a passionate liberal-progressive, and am one of those critics) to respond to that disfluency as it serves a political marker in conservative politicians in ways it generally does not in moderates. Populists, too, one presumes...

marcus said...

One should not forget the meme that Republican presidents are bumbling idiots, as proven by their speaking style. In my lifetime Ike was considered a fool by the commentators because of his wandering syntax. Neither Bush father or Bush son is a fluent public speaker. Fluency in public speech does not to me seem to be synonymous with intelligence.

Chris said...

jaylake & marcus, I think we're getting down to the heart of the matter here. the speaking style and the criticism are both politically motivated.

dan said...

you mean "dysfluency", no?

http://zippy1300.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-see-by-snailpapers-that-sarah-palin.html

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