Putting Donald Trump’s speaking style under the microscope

The persistence of the Trump phenomenon continues to make many political pundits, who thought they knew how the rising and falling of a presidential candidacy was supposed to work, grasp for understanding.

One recent and novel and — I thought — pretty cool attempt at Trumpology (which is a word I just made up to refer to the science of trying to pierce the mystery of Donald Trump’s large and still-enduring appeal to a plurality of Republicans) consisted of transcribing a Trumpian utterance and analyzing how his speech patterns are different from those of more typical candidates.

It comes to us from a site called Nerdwriter where a guy I believe is named Evan Puschak posts smart, short videos. This one, titled “How Donald Trump Answers a Question,” takes a fairly typical Trump expostulation from an interview with Jimmy Kimmel and puts the curious (but apparently effective) Trumpian speaking style under the microscope.

On Dec. 17, shortly after Trump announced his call for a ban — at least temporarily — on any Muslims coming into America, the Donald went on the Kimmel TV show and Kimmel asked: “Isn’t it un-American and wrong to discriminate on people based on their religion?” (The audience briefly responds to Kimmel’s question with applause.)

Trump then speaks for one minute, uttering 220 words justifying and explaining his proposal. You’ve heard the elements of the justification several times by now. What the Nerdwriter does is post the sentences on the screen and dissect then for the things that make Trump’s public statements different from those of normal politicians.

It starts with Nerdwriter’s observation that typical politicians “seem hyperaware that their words will be picked apart and used against them,” which I took to be code for the suggestion that they seem to be choosing their words so carefully that you suspect they aren’t really saying what they mean.

Trump, writes Nerdwriter, “as a lifelong salesman, has a huckster’s knack for selling a feeling even if the ideas that in fact underscore it are spurious, racist or just plain incomprehensible.” Trump’s strange semi-coherence is one of the ways that he comes across as unbound by political correctness.

He also keeps it very simple. According to Puschak’s analysis of this one Trumpian statement, 78 percent of the 220 words are words of just one syllable; 39 more are just two syllables, and only four words are three syllable long (and three of those four are “tremendous”). The two longest of the 220 words clock in at four syllables, one of which is “California.”

Trump has a tremendous knack for structuring sentences that — even if he has to torture normal sentence structure to make this happen — end with a short, punchy word. These sentence-enders  — in this case, “problem” several times; also “dead,” “die” and “injured” — play to the fears of the audience and reinforce the idea that the country has serious problems that others neglect but that Trump understands and isn’t afraid to call by name — and that the country needs a blunt, politically incorrect guy like Trump to confront.

Nerdwriter concludes that: “If you are an American citizen, who has — for years — listened to politicians sound sophisticated while accomplishing nothing, you might just be primed for something that is everything they are not.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/05/2016 - 09:22 am.

    Trumpian

    An interesting approach to Trumpspeak. That said, demagoguery is still demagoguery, and Mr. Trump is a demagogue in spades. Much of what he has to say makes no sense, but because his delivery is forceful and – a characteristic commonly exhibited by the arrogant –  *sounds* confident and certain, it doesn’t have to *actually* make sense. It just has to *sound* like it makes sense. Few Trump supporters are going to subject what he says to the sort of analysis that Nerdwriter uses.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/05/2016 - 09:39 am.

    In other words

    He says what people want to hear
    in words so simple that they don’t have to think.
    The question is how many American voters would buy a used house from him.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/05/2016 - 10:08 am.

    Trump…. again?

    OK, I’m not going to read this article or comment on it but I just have to point out a couple things for someone to think about:

    7 of the last 21 Black Inks have been explicit articles about Donald Trump. (That’s 33%)

    In that same sample there was one (1) article each about: H. Clinton, Bernie, Rubio, and Christe (4.8%). There were three (3) articles about the debates in general, two (2) about the democrats and one (1) about the republicans. (9% and 4.8% respectively).

    Here’s another little factoid: In most NATIONAL polls Trump loses a general election to either Clinton or Bernie, and in one recent poll Bernie stomps Trump more so than Clinton.

    Questions: Are Minnpost readers six (6) time more likely to vote for Donald Trump than any other candidate? Are the candidates that are beating Trump THAT much less interesting? Why would Minnpost readers be 6 times more interested in Trump than Clinton or Bernie?

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/05/2016 - 12:08 pm.

    THIS!

    Oh my god, this! I don’t give a flying fart about what Trump says or thinks. Though, it disturbs me that there are enough people that actually do to keep him top of the Republican pack. I’ll note that it apparently disturbs much of the rest of the world, too, and embarrasses the majority of Americans here and overseas. I might also point out that the rest of the world is so disturbed by Trump that it’s one of the few things that the rest of the world agrees with ISIS on–and ISIS is actually actively trying to recruit based on Trump’s utterances (and might just be successful, too). BUT! Even if Trump ends up being the nominee, he will be only ONE candidate in a pool of AT LEAST TWO to run for president. That means, at max, it is reasonable to only cover the awfulness that is Trump 50% of the time. I have my doubts that he’ll even be the Republican nominee, so that would suggest that something far less than 50% is actually appropriate.

    At the same time, coverage of Bernie Sanders is pretty much negligible, which is a crying shame. Especially considering, in the face of potential Trump nomination, many conservatives I’ve talked to would rather hold their noses to vote for him over Clinton. That, by the way, would be supported by the poll mentioned by Mr. Udstrand.

    In other words, if the goal is to report on the fascinating, if disgusting, human nature brought out by Trump’s run, then do so. But that’s sociology and psychology, not politics, and last time I checked, politics is influenced by those things, but the political news is actually in the field of candidates, not the deviant that won’t be elected president.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 01/05/2016 - 12:38 pm.

      Contact Management

      Remember “The Black Hole” and do not get sucked into it. Eric’s on a run, gathering comment credits for his annual management review. That’s the objective, well, I’m fairly sure it is.

      I’m chuckling that a reader finally did some statistical jotting about this.

      Trump is the current card to play, so perhaps some readers should sit out a few hands, reading non-political offerings, for example. [oh, yes, there are some here]. Or, read Mark Porubcansky’s excellent postings of foreign affairs. Much can be learned and applied elsewhere by reading him.

      Amazing as it seems, I believe Eric’s writing has become quite good this past year. Perhaps it’s the advantage of blog type, but his Black Ink does not seem to smudge as much as it once did.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2016 - 12:38 pm.

    Trump is a many-faceted diamond for the media.

    Just remember, 4 years short ago, Michele Bachmann was the darling–an endless fount of astonishment.

    Trump is Bachmann with multi-decade name recognition.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/05/2016 - 12:42 pm.

    As for Trump’s word salad, what exactly has he committed to do in a straight-forward manner?

    It’s a sales/negotiating style–creating a blizzard cloud of perception and positive assumption that are directed at “closing the deal” but those assumptions and perceptions falter when the used car is driven home.

  7. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/06/2016 - 04:47 pm.

    For you, Eric

    “Trump l’oeil,” an American form of “illusion painting.” Some would say “delusion” painting.

    In any case, please use this in good work.

  8. Submitted by Russ Hilbert on 01/07/2016 - 11:43 am.

    hyperbole

    He is the master of hyperbole. It’s unfortunate we have so many fools that take every word he says at face value.

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