The Gurgle—Orate continuum
Posted: 22 January 2017 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Is the slide from oratorical French cuffs to polyester short sleeves a U.S. only phenomenon, or is it happening in other English speaking arenas?

From Oration to Jabbering in one easy election

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Posted: 22 January 2017 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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To my mind the unusual thing about Trump’s way of talking is not that it is informal, nor that it is pitched at a ten year old level. Even four year olds use complete sentences and use structure meaningfully. Everyone speaks informally when off-duty but they don’t give their sentences five middles and no conclusion, like a phraseological equivalent of Kafka’s The Trial. The author seems to be implying that this mode of talking is common, but I’ve never encountered anything quite like it. I watched his address at the CIA headquarters yesterday: it was 97% packing foam and 3% horror show. I don’t think I could tolerate that brand of stream-of-consciousness drivel for more than 10 minutes IRL.

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Posted: 22 January 2017 01:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, trying to speak objectively here, politics to one side, Trump certainly has problems with English syntax. He and Bush are far from the first linguistically-challenged Presidents though. Didn’t Warren Harding have trouble putting a decent sentence together? And I’ll lay odds some of the 19th century Presidents were not completely at ease with the language. It makes one long for the time of the classically educated early British and American politicians when the elder Pitt could transfix the House and Edmund Burke fire mens’ souls with their speeches. And of course Churchill showed the 20th century that the art of rhetoric in politicians was not dead. And now there’s Trump!

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Posted: 22 January 2017 09:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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And I’ll lay odds some of the 19th century Presidents were not completely at ease with the language.

Oh, dear Dave, let this thread live on here, politically charged though it might be.

In reference to 19th century presidents, Lincoln, of course comes to mind. No formal education but a man who considered his words and syntax in public speech before he spoke. Even in his recorded private speech he could make his sentences coherent (perhaps these are romanticized remembrances, I don’t know.) He likely never diagrammed a sentence on his chalk board by the fireplace in his log cabin, but he knew how sentences came together in order to be understood. It is likely because he was well-read. He is said to have walked the streets of Washington during the war with a copy of Macbeth in his keeping.

Language has been deeply coarsened in these days but, I’m with OP, I’ve never heard folks talk quite like this. In most cases when we hear such language, if we are not polite, we would have to say, “What the hell are you saying?”

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Posted: 23 January 2017 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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To answer Oecolampadius, this thread is not (at least yet) overtly political. We can discuss political speech here, so long as the emphasis remains on the speech and doesn’t stray into policy or electoral advocacy.

I agree with OP Tipping. McWhorter is conflating a bunch of different things here. American political rhetoric, as well as the larger universe of public speaking, has not become ungrammatical. McWhorter’s point about Romney’s speech being too formal and stiff is valid, but Romney’s opponents (both Obama as well as his Republican challengers for the nomination) all spoke with generally correct and understandable syntax; they just adopted a more casual tone. What most speakers do is join clauses together into long, sometimes never-ending sentences (there’s a term for this, but for the life of me I can’t recall it right now; it will undoubtedly come to me when I’m in the shower). While one would never do that in writing, when most people, at least those who are practiced at public speaking, speak these strung-together clauses are self-contained and logically ordered. There may not be discrete sentences, but there is coherency.

Trump, on the other hand, interrupts and nests his clauses, often never emerging to complete the original thought. He also has the habit of using single words, like cyber or nuclear, to represent entire phrases, using the same word to represent multiple phrases in close proximity, so while a listener knows what the general topic is, they cannot determine what he is specifically referring to.

McWhorter also conflates the inauguration speech, which was scripted and read, with Trump’s unscripted speech. It would be interesting to examine how his speechwriters wrote a speech to accommodate his speaking style, but that’s not what McWhorter is doing. (I’m not sure what McWhorter is doing in this article; he is all over the map. I like McWhorter’s analysis when it’s well prepared—even when I disagree he is thought provoking—but he has a tendency to get sloppy and lose analytical rigor.)

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Posted: 23 January 2017 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yes, McWhorter is one of the more frustrating public intellectuals around—I want to like him more than I do.  I wish he wouldn’t just accept whatever commissions come his way and toss off some ill-thought-out remarks and cash the check (which is what I presume he’s doing).

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Posted: 23 January 2017 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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In reference to 19th century presidents, Lincoln, of course comes to mind. No formal education but a man who considered his words and syntax in public speech before he spoke. Even in his recorded private speech he could make his sentences coherent (perhaps these are romanticized remembrances, I don’t know.)

19th century oratory was a very different thing than oratory today. But Lincoln was not a typical orator of his day. For one thing, the two speeches which are best known, the Second Inaugural and the Gettysburg Address are very short by 19th century standards. (The Gettysburg Address is short by today’s standards.) Of course, they may be best remembered precisely because they are short, and more like 20th century oratory than 19th.

And today’s American oratory owes a lot to the tradition of preaching, especially African-American preaching. Martin Luther King, Jr. is probably more responsible than anyone else for bringing this style to mainstream (i.e., white) Americans. You can hear the homiletic cadences in almost every good speech that is delivered today. Obama is a master of it, but you hear it in white politicians too.

I’m speaking here of prepared, scripted speeches. Off-the-cuff oratory in the 19th century, vocabulary aside, was probably not that much different than today. (Although we can’t know for sure, as all we have are later remembrances, which we can be sure are not accurate representations of exactly what was said.)

a man who considered his words and syntax in public speech before he spoke

Most politicians who rise to national prominence do this. Trump is the exception. That is the problem; presidents have to carefully consider their words.

And we haven’t touched on tweeting. Trump is a master of the tweet. He is really good at it. Whether or not Twitter is an appropriate medium for the President of the United States to communicate major policy announcements in and whether or not the subjects Trump tweets about are appropriate for the president to engage with, however, are different questions.

[ Edited: 23 January 2017 07:20 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 January 2017 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Another advantage (to him and his partisans) of Trump’s disordered speech is that if one doesn’t say anything clearly, it is more difficult to establish that one has spoken an error or falsehood.  I don’t think it’s a deliberate policy (since Trump doesn’t really seem to be concerned about errors or falsehoods) but it can help provide cover.  We’ve certainly had examples on this board of people who would claim that their sentence fragments or garbled sentences did not mean what they were plainly intended to mean, rather than admit to being wrong, and I’ve observed it elsewhere on the net (and IRL) as well.

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Posted: 23 January 2017 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I blame this phenomenon on corporate America.  Or rather the corporate America that lies to use all day every day.  Here is an example:  I pulled up to the drive-thru window at the pharmacy today, and within a few seconds a recorded message started playing—“Thank you for choosing [our] Pharmacy..,” blah, blah, blah, “...appreciate your business..,” blah, blah, blah, “...eager to assist you..,” yada, yada, yada, “...with you shortly...” etc, etc, etc.  There was a moment of silence, the clerk appeared and she asked my name, at which point the whole stupid recording started again, prompting her to say, “Hold on,” while she operated the drawer that stuff goes in and out of which, apparently switches the thing off.  The whole, perfectly worded, marketing-department-approved recording is complete and utter bullshit.  It is just a lot of marketing drivel created to (supposedly) keep us from getting impatient.  Nobody is fooled by this.  Even very stupid people know that this is a lie.  But this is how all organizations, whether corporations, bureaucrats, or politicians talk to us these days. 

“We apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Your business is important to us.”
“This policy will improve the lives of millions of people.”
“I am here to serve the great people of [some state or locality].”
“The Nobel Peace Prize is to be awarded to Bob Loblaw for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples...”

Is it any wonder that so much that we hear and read, especially if it is lengthy and well worded and filled with “weasel words”, is met with suspicion?

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Posted: 23 January 2017 10:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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But hey, you think we’ve got problems?

Run on sentences and disjointed syntax have created an ethical dilemma for interpreters.
Translators around the world reported that it’s a struggle to accurately interpret Donald Trump’s speeches, statements and interviews – a challenge which shows no signs of abating as the dominant newsmaker assumes the world’s most influential office.
“For translators, Trump is an unprecedented and desolating struggle,” wrote professional translator Bérengère Viennot in the French version of Slate last month.
In the widely circulated article, Ms Viennot lamented the president’s disjointed syntax, run-on sentences and limited vocabulary. “When it comes to speaking of something other than his victory, he clings desperately to the words contained in the question put to him, without succeeding in completing his own thought,” she wrote. “The poverty of the vocabulary is striking.”

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/01/24/translators-are-struggling-interpret-donald-trump

Interview with Viennot
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/lost-in-trumpslation-an-interview-with-berengere-viennot/

Original French Slate article
http://www.slate.fr/story/131087/traduire-trump-mourir-un-peu

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