Verbal breakdown

Just a few words on Trump’s use of language. I’m sure this has been covered elsewhere by minds far greater than mine, but I do see the way he speaks being held by some to be an indication of stupidity, and so although I’m not going to make any particular claims for or against his intellect, I think it’s worth making a case for there being more interesting things happening here.

There’s an element of ambiguity to Trump’s speech which he’s found to be very useful. It’s like a linguistic Rorschach test which allows far more people to believe he’s saying something they want to hear than if he spoke clearly and specifically.
Again, I’m not saying it’s conscious. It might be, but I suspect it’s more likely that it’s evolved organically – essentially he’s kept doing stuff that’s worked in the past.
(He’s so desperate for approval from those around him that I think his feedback loop is far faster and stronger than most people’s in this sense – that’s an idea I may come back to in future posts.)

So, part of this ambiguity comes from his very limited vocabulary (you can’t speak about specifics without using specific words), but I think the more significant element is his syntax, tailing off during the first chunk of a sentence or thought, leaving it incomplete and using the tail as a springboard into an entirely different one, which is also likely to be left unfinished. This means that anyone can be led by their own confirmation bias to think he’s saying something that they agree with when often he’s saying very little, but also that anyone who may be inclined to disagree with him can give him a ‘pass’, because he hasn’t made a specific statement with which to disagree. It also of course provides an element of plausible deniability if he or his people need to defend something he’s (almost) said at a later stage.

It’s often said that Trump is a poor public speaker. He’s not. Of course he’s not an orator with the gravitas, compassion, or warmth of Obama or the depth and fireworks of Christopher Hitchens, but their audiences are not his audience. At its most prosaic, the measure of the quality of a person’s oratory is the extent to which it serves their purpose, whatever it may be. To his audience therefore, whether by design or chance, he’s an excellent public speaker. In fact the natural fluency with which he speaks his own idiosyncratic dialect is so effective that I think it can mask the dynamics that I’ve outlined above. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading direct transcripts of Trump’s speeches, holding in mind how each sentence is developing and why it’s there. As well as being unintentionally hilarious, it may be enlightening.

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