Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lakoff: Pay Close Attention—Trump Means Exactly What He Says

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-rhetoric-calculated-sway

Trump is swaying millions with his calculated rhetoric.

By George Lakoff August 24, 2016

Responsible reporters in the media normally transcribe political speeches so that they can accurately report them. But Donald Trump’s discourse style has stumped a number of reporters. Dan Libit, CNBC’s excellent analyst, is one of them. Libit writes, "His unscripted speaking style, with its spasmodic, self-interrupting sentence structure, has increasingly come to overwhelm the human brains and tape recorders attempting to quote him."

Trump is, simply put, a transcriptionist's worst nightmare: severely unintelligible, yet incredibly important to understand.

Given how dramatically recent polls have turned on his controversial public utterances, it is not hyperbolic to say that the very fate of the nation appears destined to come down to one man's application of the English language, and the public's comprehension of it. It has turned the rote job of transcribing into a high-stakes calling.

Trump's crimes against clarity are multifarious: He often speaks in long, run-on sentences, with frequent asides. He pauses after subordinate clauses. He frequently quotes people saying things that aren't actual quotes. And he repeats words and phrases, sometimes with slight variations, in the same sentence.

Some in the media (Washington Post,Salon, Slate, Think Progress, etc.) have called Trump’s speeches “word salad.” Some commentators have even attributed his language use to “early Alzheimer’s," citing “erratic behavior” and “little regards for social conventions.”

I don’t believe it.

I have been repeatedly asked in media interviews about Trumps use of language. So far as I can tell, he is simply using effective discourse mechanisms to communicate what he wants to communicate to his audience. I have found that he is very careful and very strategic in his use of language. The only way I know to show this is to function as a linguist and cognitive scientist and go through details.

Let’s start with sentence fragments. It is common and natural in New York discourse for friends to finish one another’s sentences. And throughout the country, if you don't actually say the rest of a friend’s sentence out loud, there is nevertheless a point at which you can finish it in your head. When this happens in cooperative discourse, it can show empathy and intimacy with a friend, that you know the context of the narrative, and that you understand and accept your friend’s framing of the situation so well you can even finish what they have started to say. Of course, you can be bored with, or antagonistic to someone and be able to finish their sentences with anything but a feeling of empathy and intimacy. But Trump prefers to talk to a friendly crowd.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-rhetoric-calculated-sway

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