gender, language, politics

Listening to Her


As the 2016 presidential campaign season begins in earnest, voters can confidently expect increasing amounts of attention from the pundits and other media inhabitants to candidates’ messages: how they introduce themselves personally to potential voters, and why they believe they should be victorious. This is just as it ought to be.


But there is one glaring exception to how it ought to be, a candidate who is listened to and understood not by what she is telling us – her positions and promises – but to how she is saying it. Continue reading

language, politics

Being Wherever


A great movie that came out in 1979 was Being There, adapted from the Jerzy Kosinski novel of the same name. Its lead character is a gardener, Chance (Peter Sellers), who has lived all his life in isolation, in the house whose garden he tends for its owner. As a result, he has no real world experience, and so he speaks in vague generalizations in the form of aphoristic statements. (Since he has no way to connect words to actual referents, he cannot speak precisely about anything definite.) Other people take his utterances as true-for-all-time pearls of wisdom, and Chance himself as a prophet.


Trump the builder is not much like Chance the gardener, except that in important ways he is – though not in the way he talks, in the way his utterances work on hearers. On the surface the two are altogether different. Chance’s para- and extralinguistics are nonexistent: he speaks as if in a trance, or in a language he doesn’t understand, completely devoid of emotional punctuation in the form of facial expression, intonation, or gesture. That absence gives his words the ring of truth: he is merely a conduit for meaning, he is not personally involved in creating it. Trump’s style is completely different: highly emotional, excited and exciting, fully expressive and committed to what he is saying.


Or so it would seem. Continue reading