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Insight by WFX is a synthesis of our passion for languages and the financial markets. Here you will find technical and fundamental analyses from our clients, media partners and contributors in different languages, as well as discussions on languages and translation. And of course we will keep you updated on what is happening inside Wordwide FX Financial Translations. Hope you enjoy it! Greetings from the Wordwide FX team!

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24/08/2017

The Earliest Surviving Secular English Song (c. 1225 AD)

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Realofhistory.com

Miri it is while sumer ilast with fugheles song, oc nu

neheth windes blast and weder strong. ei ei what this

niht is long. and ich with wel michel wrong, soregh and

murn and fast.

Merry it is while summer lasts with the song of birds;

but now draws near the wind’s blast and harsh weather.

Alas, Alas! How long this night is! And I, most unjustly,

sorrow and mourn and fast

 

These lines are the lyrics to might be the earliest surviving secular English song, dating from the first half of 13th century (circa 1225 AD). Known as Mirie it is while sumer ilast (‘Merry it is while summer lasts’), the preservation of the song is quite fortuitous since it was composed on a paper that was kept inside an unrelated historical manuscript.

The manuscript in question here pertains to the Book of Psalms, originally written in Latin on parchment, dating from the latter half of 12th century AD. However after a few decades of its composition, an anonymous writer (probably not the original scribe) added a flyleaf – a blank page, at the beginning of the manuscript. This particular page contained handwritten compositions of two French songs, along with a verse (in Middle English) of what is now considered as the earliest surviving secular English song – Mirie it is while sumer ilast. This ‘rudimentary’ music has been recreated and performed on a medieval harp by Ian Pittaway. There is another version by Ensemble Belladonna (below).


Another famous specimen Sumer is icumen in (more widely known as the Cuckoo Song or Summer Canon), is also counted among the earliest surviving songs in English. Possibly composed circa 1260 AD, the song (also written in Middle English, Wessex dialect) is now given the distinction of being the oldest known piece of six-part polyphonic music in English. The following musical arrangement was performed by the Hilliard Ensemble.

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17/08/2017

Modern Hebrew: "To create a new language which is completely old"

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

By Aysa Pereltsvag

Via Languages of the World

According to the official story, Hebrew has been “revived” in the late 19th century and early 20th century until it once again became the national language of Israel. But some scholars — such as Paul Wexler and Gil’ad Zuckermann — have challenged this narrative, proposing instead that Modern Hebrew is a new language with little or no roots in a Semitic past. So which is it, old or new?

A bit of historical background first. The “old”, Biblical (or Classical) Hebrew was spoken (yes, spoken!) some 3,500-3,000 years ago. The core of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, traditionally believed to have been first recorded 3,300 years ago, is written in Biblical Hebrew (obviously, hence the name). This language is undoubtedly a member of the Semitic language family. It was a living, spoken language and it kept changing through time.

But for external reasons to do with the Bar Kohba war of 135 CE, exile and diaspora, Hebrew gradually became extinct as a spoken language around 200 CE. Yet, it continued to be used as a liturgical and written language for many centuries thereafter. It was used for prayer and to write books and documents in a variety of fields, including not just religion, but also law, business, philosophy, literature and medicine. Furthermore, it was spoken by Jewish traders as a second language, a lingua franca for communication between Jews from different lands (more on this below). But crucially, it was not spoken by anyone as a native language, a mother tongue. This is what makes us analyze it as a dead language. Whether Modern Hebrew was “revived from the dead” or “created from scratch”, it is now spoken by some 5 million people natively and serves as the national language of the State of Israel. It is now once again a living, spoken language and it keeps changing. So what exactly happened in those early “revival” years and how did Hebrew once again become a living language?

If we need to put a date on the beginning of the process of the Hebrew language “revival” (a term I will use for now), it must be October 13th 1881, when a man called Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew in their conversations. Thus, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is usually credited with the feat of “reviving” Hebrew. Who was he and what did he do?

He was born Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman in 1858 in that part of the Russian Empire where Russians, Belarusians, Poles and Lithuanians lived side by side with a large Jewish population. At the age of three, he started learning in a xeder, a school for young children, where he learned Biblical Hebrew. By the time he was twelve, Ben-Yehuda was familiar with large portions of Torah, Mishna and Talmud. Hoping he would become a rabbi, his parents sent him to a yeshiva where he continued studying Torah and Biblical Hebrew. In addition to Biblical Hebrew, he studied Lithuanian, Yiddish, Hebrew and Aramaic, and in the following years, he also learned French, German and Russian (from his first wife, Deborah) and traveled to Dunaburg, Latvia and later to Paris for further education.

With the rise of Jewish nationalism in 19th century Europe, Ben-Yehuda was captivated by the innovative ideas of Zionism. While reading the Hebrew language newspaper HaShahar, he became acquainted with Zionism and other political ideas of the day. Among those ideas was the belief that one of the criteria needed to define a nation worthy of national rights was its use of a common language spoken by both the society and the individual. This made Ben-Yehuda conclude that the reviving the Hebrew language in the Land of Israel would unite all Jews worldwide. In fact, Ben-Yehuda regarded Hebrew and Zionism as one and the same, writing that

"The Hebrew langage can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland".

And so, in 1881, Ben-Yehuda moved to Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire, where he settled in Jerusalem and on October 13th made that fateful decision to speak only Hebrew, both in the home, with his wife Deborah, and outside the home as well, with his like-minded Hebrew-revivalist friends. Thus, he set out to achieve his self-proclaimed goal, which he later formulated as

"to create a new language which is completely old..."

To this end, Ben-Yehuda (who by then had adopted this Hebrew name) became a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language (Va’ad HaLaschon), later the Academy of the Hebrew Language, an organization that still exists today. It was also Ben-Yehuda who wrote the first Modern Hebrew dictionary and invented a word for it, milon (from mila ‘word’). Many of the words he coined have become part and parcel of the language but others — some 2,000 words — never caught on. His word for ‘tomato’, for instance, was badura, but Hebrew speakers today use the word agvania.

But these efforts would have had little effect if it were not for another fateful decision he and his wife have made: to speak only in Hebrew to their first-born son Ben-Zion (“the son of Zion”) Ben-Yehuda (born in 1882; later he will adopt the name Itamar Ben-Avi, “the son of my father”) and to the other four children to follow. He refused to let his son be exposed to other languages during childhood, so much so that it is said he once reprimanded his wife for singing a Russian lullaby to the child. As a result, Ben-Zion became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew. According to the story, he started speaking only at the age of 4, and his first words were Lo l’hit’lachem ‘Don’t fight’ (was it in response to his parents quarreling over language use in the home?).

Soon, Ben-Yehuda was not the only one to speak to his children in Hebrew. The idea of Hebrew “revival” caught on: the first Hebrew schools were established; Hebrew increasingly became a spoken language of daily affairs; in 1922 it became an official language of British Palestine; and in 1925 it became the first “indigenous” language to be used as the medium of university instruction with the founding of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, my alma mater.

Ben-Yehuda’s tireless work to raise awareness and to fight his opponents (and they were many) made him a symbol of the Hebrew revival and a part of the contemporary Israeli self-narrative. Here’s how Cecil Roth summed up Ben-Yehuda’s contribution to the Hebrew language:

"Before Ben-Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, the did."

But as symbolic as Ben-Yehuda has become to the process of Hebrew’s return to regular usage, his role in this process of turning a dead but sacred language into a national language with millions of first language speakers should not be overestimated.

As research shows, in the fifty years preceding Ben-Yehuda’s arrival to Palestine and the start of the revival process, a version of spoken Hebrew already existed in the markets of Jerusalem. The Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino or Arabic and the Ashkenazi Jews who spoke Yiddish needed a common language for commercial purposes, a lingua franca, and the most obvious choice was Hebrew. It should be noted that it was not a native tongue for anyone, but it was not a pidgin of the sort that would arise between English and Chinese traders or between Russian and Norwegian fishermen and merchants. It did not combine bits and pieces of simplified versions of two languages. Rather, it was a modified version of Hebrew that these people knew from their studies of ancient and medieval religious texts, their prayer books and other literature.

The connection to the Biblical Hebrew of yesteryear was perceived as strong enough to ruffle the feathers of the very religious Jews (the haredim): how dare these “revivalists” use a sacred language for mundane topics of everyday life?! They denounced Ben-Yehuda to the British mandate authorities. As a result, he was imprisonned, which didn’t do much good to his health or his spirit and must have precipitated his death from tuberculosis (from which he had suffered for many years) at the age of 64.

Below, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda while working on the Hebrew dictionary, 1912. The David B. Keidan Collection of Digital Images from the Central Zionist Archives (via Harvard University Library)

 

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12/01/2017

Stanford experts highlight link between language and race in new book

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Stanford News

By Alex Shashkvich

Language is one of the most important cultural means that people have for shaping their identity. A new field called raciolinguistics explores this relationship between language and race.

Anthropologist Samy Alim (photo below) argues that the relationship between race, language and racism plays such a key role in reflecting and defining the way human societies are structured that it deserves study as a separate field, which he calls raciolinguistics.

Anthropologist Samy Alim is one of the scholars establishing the discipline of raciolinguistics, the examination of how language and race shape each other. (Image credit: Courtesy H. Samy Alim)
Alim, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, examines the connection between language, race and power in a new book, co-edited with John Rickford and Arnetha Ball. The book, Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race, compiles recent scholarly research on different societies around the world.

Stanford News Service interviewed Alim, the book’s lead editor and director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language, about the emerging field of raciolinguistics and his research.

You say that today more than ever, American society is hyperracial and hyperracializing. What do you mean by that and why do you think that is so?

When the U.S. elected its first black president eight years ago, some proclaimed the U.S. to be a “postracial” society, where race doesn’t matter. But every social indicator, from the income gap to incarceration rates and medical statistics on infant mortality, among others, paints a picture of a nation deeply structured and divided by race.

It is now nearly impossible to ignore social scientific research of all stripes, which demonstrates that, rather than postracial, American society is in fact hyperracial or hyperracializing. That is, we are constantly orienting to race while at the same time denying the overwhelming evidence that shows the myriad ways that American society is fundamentally structured by it.

When racist speech is prevalent in mainstream U.S. political arenas – such as the racializing words of President-elect Donald Trump and other Republicans in the 2016 presidential primary – the possibility for violence increases, as we’ve seen with the recent attacks on U.S. Muslims and Mexicans.

This type of language has breathed new life into white supremacist movements like the so-called “alt-right,” the term itself being a perfect example of how language can be used to obscure and sanitize what are overtly racist movements.

Can you give specific examples from your research that highlight this connection between language and identity?

I studied Barack Obama’s speech patterns and I’ve found that his speech changed depending on his audience. Because of prevailing racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic ideas about who he was, he had to speak in such a way that made as many people comfortable with him as possible.

Obama used a “black preacher style” to appeal to the African American community, linking himself to familiar black figures like Martin Luther King Jr. At the same time, he used “standard” English when he talked to more general audiences. But his “black preacher style” was not only important for the black electorate; he also alleviated some white American fears that he was “not American” and “not Christian.” He was caught between discriminatory discourses of race, language, citizenship and religion, and he needed to navigate between them in order to not be seen as “the African, Muslim boogeyman” that the far right made him out to be. Language and race work together here in very important ways.

I argue that Obama’s ability to switch between different linguistic varieties has been an advantage in his political career. His speech can be seen as an example of transgressive, transracial politics.

What do you believe is the biggest takeaway from the research compiled in this book?

As leading scholars argue in the book, language is often overlooked as one of the most important cultural means that we have for distinguishing ourselves from others. But rather than being fixed and predetermined, we argue that racial identities can shift across contexts and even in moment-to-moment interactions.

We use the knowledge gained from our studies to argue for a new kind of politics – a transgressive, transracial politics – that considers both the powerful ways that race is taken up by people of color in contexts of racial inequality and the ways that we challenge the very process of racial categorization itself. Race is both a social construct and an important social reality. So how do we develop a new politics around that in this current moment?

What is raciolinguistics and why was it important to establish this field?

Raciolinguistics examines how language shapes race and how race shapes language. It’s a field that grew out of a need to understand that there is a close relationship between race, racism and language and how these processes impact our lives across domains like politics and education.

Some linguists study language in a vacuum without theorizing race at all. On the other hand, race scholars that do think a lot about race oftentimes neglect the central role that language plays in processes of racialization.

So, in this book, we bring together cutting-edge, innovative scholars interested in explicating the increasingly vexed relationships between race, language and power in our rapidly changing world – from the U.S.-Mexico border to Brazil, Spain, South Africa, Israel and the United Kingdom.

What are your next steps for establishing raciolinguistics as a new field?

I founded the Stanford Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language (CREAL) in 2010 to help grow the field. It was the first and only center of its kind in the world. From there, in 2012, I served as founding director of the program in Race, Inequality and Language in Education (RILE), which now is one of the programs that receives the most applications in the Graduate School of Education.

There are several next steps, but the biggest two, for me, are these: I am now editing The Oxford Handbook of Language and Race with other leaders in the field, Jonathan Rosa, Angela Reyes and Mary Bucholtz. This is an explicit effort to build the field. Further, I have just begun editing a book series for Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Language and Race. Raciolinguistics is a collective effort, and scholars all over the country and the world are building it with us.
 

Below: Anthropologist Samy Alim is one of the scholars establishing the discipline of raciolinguistics, the examination of how language and race shape each other. (Image credit: Courtesy H. Samy Alim)

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02/01/2017

The Diacritics Affair

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via Languages Around the World

By Asya Pereltsvaig

[This is a guest post, written by Roger Fernàndez from Barcelona, Catalonia]

Can a few simple accents become the center of a controversy that occupy headlines? In Catalonia, yes. Catalan is the language of this northeast Spain region, whose capital is Barcelona. The Catalan language, however, is not only spoken in Catalonia; other Spanish regions such as the Balearic Islands, Valencia and some Aragon areas as well as areas of southern France, and the Italian city of Alghero, make this Romance language the 20th most spoken language in Europe (9,4M speakers ).

On 29 September an intention was announced to eliminate the vast majority of diacritical accents. The proposal was made by the IEC, the Institute of Catalan Studies, which is the organization that, since 1911, defines the rules of grammar, spelling and new vocabulary of the Catalan language. And, as if someone had thrown a match into a powder keg, a discussion has exploded and unleashed far beyond the purely academic circles.

But what diacritical accents mean in Catalan and what role do they have? The diacritical accents are marks that are introduced in some words to help distinguish words with different meanings; they do not follow the rules of accentuation,. A few examples illustrate this:

Ma (my) / Mà (hand)

Dona (Woman) / Dóna (gives)

Pel (for the) / Pèl (hair)

Net (clean) / Nét (grandson)

Deu (Ten) /  Déu (God)

And so up to 150 pairs of words were defined by Pompeu Fabra, the philologist who created the prescriptive rules of modern Catalan orthography in the early twentieth century. The new IEC proposal reduces the number of such pairs to just 14!

Initially, the news appeared in the Catalan newspapers, but it was only a small article in the Culture section of each newspaper. But after a few hours, thanks to social networks, the debate was on like an uncontrollable fire. Soon the “Diacriticals affair” was the cover story in the media all around the country.

That day, Empar Moline, one of the most prestigious writers in Catalan, published an article in the newspaper “Ara” denouncing, in his usual humorous style, that the disappearance of diacritic marks would become an oversimplification of a language which, by constant contact with the powerful Spanish language, is already suffering a loss of rigor. Why not, Moline asked ironically, remove Catalan personal pronouns (“pronoms febles” or weak pronouns), the real nemesis for any student of Catalan.

Within a few hours, Quim Monzo, a close friend of Empar Moline and probably the most recognized living writer in Catalan, responded in Tweeter standing at the other side of the controversy:

“Please, we need an immediate crowdfunding campaign to save the diacritics” wrote the eternal candidate for the Literature Nobel Prize, Quim Monzó.

The discussion, however, was not limited only to a philological and literary milieu, and Twitter was starting to warm up. That evening #diacritics hashtag became Trending Topic on Twitter. Catalan TV channels and radio stations buzzed and the controversy grew hour by hour. Right now, platform Change.org has three active campaigns to collect signatures to “save the 136 diacritical accent marks from a death sentence.”

The following day, instead of troubled waters getting calm, tempers were inflamed even more. Even some graffiti appeared:

The sentence, which with stress marks would be written “La dona dóna un os d’ós al nét net” will hardly ever be used, considering its meaning: “The woman gives a bone of bear to the clean grandson”, but it is a symptomatic example of the sudden Catalans’ love for their 136 words with diacritical stress marks. Some online media took advantage to propose tests and surveys to determine how many diacritics readers were able to recognize, as many Catalan speakers are not able to spell all the words with diacritical accents, as required by prescriptive rules. Note that these written accents do not follow any rules and, therefore, the only way to learn them is to do it by memory.

If I had to evaluate a distribution of supporters and opponents of diacritic accents suppression, I think much of the academic world (philologists and linguists) are for this simplification, while writers are divided 50-50. Interestingly, however, a large majority of Catalan speakers, let’s say, ordinary people, are absolutely against simplifying their language. Even songs and flash mobs appeared in YouTube in defense of Diacritic accents.

What makes Catalan speakers so zealous about an alleged complexity of the language? Before trying to answer, I would like to clarify that Catalan is as simple or complex as any other language of the Romance branch of Indo-European may be. Well, back to the question: With the end of sovereignty of Catalonia (in the eighteenth century), political and cultural decline began, the Catalan language was banned from public administration and education. The language was restricted to the private sphere and suffered a clear recession, reaching an almost jeopardized state during the fascist dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975). With the arrival of democracy in Spain and the recognition of a certain autonomy for Catalonia, the language became the center of the Catalan cultural identity. Catalonia is currently undergoing a process of independence that has made people feel more proud than ever of their culture and, therefore, of their language. Catalan language now has a strong presence in all areas of society, government, education and the media, despite being a region where two languages (Catalan and Spanish) live quite harmoniously. And maybe diacritical accents have become a symbol of Catalans’ pride for their language.

After this controversy, I don’t want even to think what will happen with the spelling reform announced for 2017! If this point was reached with diacritics reform, I hope not to see barricades in the streets in defense of the only exclusively Catalan letter “L geminada “(l·l)!

 

 

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20/12/2016

Seven seriously silly Swedish sayings

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

Via The Local.se 

Swedish is a tough language to learn, and strange proverbs about cows, dead dogs, and suspicious owls don't help. The Local has listed some of the seven silliest sayings to help you on the way.

1. Det är ingen ko på isen (here's no cow on the ice)

This is a roundabout Swedish way of saying, quite simply, 'don't worry' or 'take it easy'. It remains unknown how often Swedish cattle are milling about on frozen lakes, but it's no stretch of the imagination to understand that a cow on the ice would be worth worrying about.

2. Med skägget i brevlådan (with your beard in the letter box)

While their English-speaking cousins are messing around getting their hands stuck in cookie jars, Swedes are getting their (probably trendy hipster-style) beards caught in letter boxes. Don't ask what they were doing with their faces so close to the letter box in the first place.

3. Det ligger en hund begraven (there's a dog buried here)

There's something fishy going on here… there's nothing fishier than a dead dog, right? Well, that's what a Swede would say. Perhaps it's the stench of the buried mutt, perhaps it's the idea of a missing canine companion, or perhaps it's just the absurdity of it all, but it's definitely fishy.

4. Ana ugglor i mossen (sensing owls in the bog)

You may think there is nothing fishier than a buried dog, and that's a perfectly logical assumption. But what about owls in the bog? Yes, those crazy Swedes are at it again. When something strange is afoot, they'll whisper to each other about those fishy owls and their boggy surroundings.

5. Inte ha rent mjöl i påsen (not have clean flour in one's bag)

If you're anar ugglor i mossen, it may be because someone doesn't have clean flour in their bag. In Swedish, this means that someone is up to no good or that they are hiding something. What are they hiding? Could be anything. Perhaps they're trying to cover up the dirty flour in their bag.

6. Du har satt din sista potatis (you have planted your final potato)

If you have had it up to here with someone, this is a good threat to throw at them. This is it. This is your final potato. There will be no more potatoes planted after I'm done with you. We suspect it stems from a time when Swedes used to walk around planting potatoes everywhere they went... or something like that (give us a break, we're not historians).

7. Nu är det kokta fläsket stekt (now, the boiled pork is fried)

Who would want to eat fried pork if you had meant to boil it? Not the Swedes, anyway. If you'll forgive us for being crude, it basically means that you're in very deep shit. Things are bad. Things are really, really bad. The boiled pork is fried, I'm telling you. The expression comes from pork being expensive back in the days, and if you boiled it as well as fried it you wouldn't have a lot of pork left.

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19/12/2016

Trump says the press mangles his “beautiful flowing sentences.” We asked linguists to weigh in.

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By Wordwide FX Financial Translations

This week, President-Elect Donald Trump canceled a much-anticipated press conference on his private business dealings, saying he was too busy nominating Cabinet members.

Despite repeatedly lambasting Hillary Clinton for not facing the press during the campaign, Trump has not held a press conference since July 27.

But now he has different excuse for avoiding interviews: The press mangles his “beautiful” sentences, and he has had enough of it, Trump told a crowd in West Allis, Wisconsin, at one of his Victory Tour rallies:

For the last month I decided not to do interviews, because they give interviews and they chop up your sentences and cut them short. You will have this beautiful flowing sentence where the back of the sentence reverts to the front and they cut the back of the sentence off, and I say I never said that. So, I said, you know what, I am not going to deal with them. They are very dishonest people, I said.
For those who covered Trump during this campaign, the comment gives some pause. Transcribing Trump off script can be a challenge — I can attest to this. When he’s speaking off the cuff, his rambling remarks can be full of digressions and hard-to-follow tangents. He often jumps to an entirely new thought before finishing his previous one.

Consider this Trump comment on the Iran nuclear deal during a campaign rally in South Carolina on July 21, 2015. Try to follow the train of thought here:

Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you're a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me — it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what's going to happen and he was right — who would have thought?), but when you look at what's going on with the four prisoners — now it used to be three, now it’s four — but when it was three and even now, I would have said it's all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don't, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years — but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
Trump’s simple message — "the Iran deal is bad for the United States" — was interrupted by musings on his uncle’s education, his own education, the power of nuclear energy, prisoners, the intelligence of women, and the negotiating prowess of Iranians, seemingly without rhyme or reason. Slate even called on the public to help diagram it.

"His speeches are full of non sequiturs," says Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a Calvin College historian who has done a comparative study of Trump and Clinton’s speaking styles. It’s a completely different style from nearly any other politician you normally see on a big stage.

During the campaign, I was curious if professional linguists and historians could help us figure out what makes Trump’s speaking style unique. There were lots of disagreements on this front, but one thing stood out: Trump’s speeches aren’t meant to be read or used for sound bites, which is probably why Trump is so frustrated with how he comes off in the media.

Rather, his seeming incoherence stems from the big difference between written and spoken language. Trump’s style of speaking has its roots in oral culture. He rallies people through impassioned, targeted conversation — even if it doesn’t always follow a clear arc.

Why Trump’s speeches are incomprehensible to some — and make perfect sense to others
Only a few of Trump’s big speeches have been scripted. At many of his rallies, he speaks off the cuff. We get a lot of fractured, unfinished sentences, moving quickly from thought to thought — what Trump calls a “beautiful flowing sentence.”

To some (or many), this style is completely incoherent. But clearly not everyone feels this way. Many people walked away from Trump’s rallies having understood — and believed — what he said.

It’s the difference between reading Trump’s remarks and listening to them in real time, University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman explained:

This apparent incoherence has two main causes: false starts and parentheticals. Both are effectively signaled in speaking — by prosody along with gesture, posture, and gaze — and therefore largely factored out by listeners. But in textual form the cues are gone, and we lose the thread.
In other words, Trump’s digressions and rambles — or, as he says, when “the back of the sentence reverts to the front” — are much easier to follow in person thanks to subtle cues.

His style of speaking is conversational, and may even stem from his New York City upbringing. As George Lakoff, a linguist at UC Berkeley, told me, "[The] thing about being a New Yorker is it is polite if you finish their sentences for them. It’s a natural part of conversation."

This may be why Trump’s sentences often seem, in transcript form, to trail off with no ending. "He knows his audience can finish his sentences for him," Lakoff says.

Watching Trump, it’s easy to see how this plays out. He makes vague implications with a raised eyebrow or a shrug, allowing his audience to reach their own conclusions. And that conversational style can be effective. It’s more intimate than a scripted speech. People walk away from Trump feeling as though he were casually talking to them, allowing them to finish his thoughts.

Yet to many linguists, Trump stands out for how often he deploys these conversational tics. "Trump's frequency of divergence is unusual," Liberman says. In other words, he goes off topic way more often than the average person in conversation.

Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist at the University of Edinburgh, argues that there’s more going on than just a conversational, I’ll-let-you-fill-in-the-gaps-style. Trump’s unorganized sentences and short snippets might suggest something about how his mind works. "His speech suggests a man with scattered thoughts, a short span of attention, and a lack of intellectual discipline and analytical skills," Pullum says.

More sophisticated thinkers and speakers (including many past presidents), Pullum argues, are able to use "hypotaxis — that is, embedding of clauses within clauses." Trump can’t seem to do that.

Pullum explains further: "When you say something like, 'While Congress shows no interest in doing X, I feel that the American people believe it is essential,' the clause ‘it is essential’ is inside the clause ‘the American people believe it is essential’ which is inside the clause ‘I feel that the American people believe it is essential,’ and so on. You get no such organized thoughts from Trump. It's bursts of noun phrases, self-interruptions, sudden departures from the theme, flashes of memory, odd side remarks. ... It's the disordered language of a person with a concentration problem."

Trump’s speeches can be appealing because he uses a lot of salesmen’s tricks
Lakoff has an explanation for why Trump’s style of speaking is so appealing to many. Many of Trump’s most famous catchphrases are actually versions of time-tested speech mechanisms that salesmen use. They’re powerful because they help shape our unconscious.

Take, for example, Trump’s frequent use of "Many people are saying..." or "Believe me" — often right after saying something that is baseless or untrue. This tends to sound more trustworthy to listeners than just outright stating the baseless claim, since Trump implies that he has direct experience with what he’s talking about. At a base level, Lakoff argues, people are more inclined to believe something that seems to have been shared.

And when Trump kept calling Clinton "crooked," or referring to terrorists as "radical Muslims," he strengthened the association through repetition. He also calls his supporters "folks," to show he is one of them (though many politicians employ this trick). Trump doesn’t repeat phrases and adjectives because he is stalling for time, Liberman says; for the most part, he’s providing emphasis and strengthening the association.

These are normal techniques, particularly in conversational speech. "Is he reading cognitive science? No. He has 50 years of experience as a salesman who doesn’t care who he is selling to," Lakoff says. On this account, Trump used similar methods in his QVC-style pitch of steaks and vodka as he does when he talks about his plan to stop ISIS.

"He has been doing this for a very long time as a salesman — that’s what he is best at," Lakoff says.

People understand Trump on an emotional level
Trump’s style proved to be successful — he beat out a highly competitive field of lifelong Republicans and a seasoned politician in Hillary Clinton. He's confident enough to address large crowds conversationally and ad-lib on stage.

That said, his rise can’t be attributed purely to his speaking style. It certainly has a lot to do with what he is actually saying. "If the content were different, I think it would come across as rambling and flabby and ineffective," Liberman says.

In other words, when Trump’s audience finishes his sentences for him, the blanks are filled with sentiments that resonate: fears of joblessness, worries about the United States losing its status as a major world power, concerns about foreign terrorist organizations. Trump validates their insecurities and justifies their anger. He connects on an emotional level, Du Mez says.

"For listeners who identify with Trump, there is little they need to do but claim what they’re entitled to," she says. "No need for sacrifice, for compromise, for complexity. He taps into fear and insecurity, but then enables his audience to express that fear through anger. And anger gives the illusion of empowerment."

That doesn’t mean it will translate to effective leadership, however. As much as the American people look for authenticity and spontaneity in a president, which Trump seems to have mastered, they are also known to value discipline.

"Leadership is hard; it needs discipline, concentration, and an ability to ignore what's irrelevant or needless or personal or silly," Pullum says. "There is no sign of it from Trump. This man talks honestly enough that you can see what he's like: He's an undisciplined narcissist who craves power but doesn't have the intellectual capacity to exercise it wisely."

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