Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fund-Raising Post. And On Trump's Language Through the Ages.

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Trump's limited vocabulary has troubled me for some time.  It is an odd aspect of the most powerful man on this earth.  His basket of adjectives is oversupplied with "greatest" "tremendous" "crooked," "corrupt," "bad" and "evil," all very emotional and basic adjectives, easily used for the purposes of exaggeration.

But it's not just Trump's limited vocabulary which troubles me, it's also the way he describes the day-to-day policies and politics of his job as the president of the United States.  If Trump was female,  critics would immediately see the way he evaluates other heads of states based on how he likes them as people and how nice they were to him,  because those are assumed to be stereotypical female characteristics.

All this made me want to know if Trump has always used the same limited vocabulary in the same self-centered and emotionally concrete manner*, or if that is a new development.  Note that should the latter turn out to be the case, we still wouldn't be able to tell why his vocabulary might have changed.  The changes could be a conscious policy, an attempt to come across as a simple man-of-the-people, or they could be evidence of verbal deterioration or both.

To learn more about this I went to YouTube and chose several videos from 1980 to 2017 where Trump was being interviewed on television**.  Interviews provide a context for speech that stays roughly constant over time, though the topics of the interviews do differ.  The earlier interviews I found are about Trump's real estate deals, while the later ones are more focused on politics.

It's important to stress that this tour of Trump's language over time is not a proper research piece.  That would require the kind of skills linguists have.  All I wanted to do is to see if anything obvious would stick out when one speed-listens to Trump speak over the last 37 years.

And I'm not sure what might stick out.  My tentative conclusions are these: 

1.  If we compare the Trump of 1980 to the Trump of 2017 the differences in the dexterity with which he uses language, in his demeanor and in the emotional content of the speech are pretty clear.

But that might be true just because of the passing of the time and the changes in the topics which are covered in the various interviews.  For example, the 1980 interview is about his real estate business, an area where he stood on the firmest of grounds, while the 2017 interviews were given after the first hundred days of his much-criticized presidency.  He would feel more threatened in the latter circumstances.

2.  Trump hated the media a long time before he decided to use that hatred as a Republican meme. 

3.  His use of certain strong-and-simple adjectives ("great," "tremendous," "bad") is not entirely recent, but its frequency seems to have increased from 2007 onward (though this, too, could be an artifact of some interviews having more anger-causing topics).

4.  The self-praise and self-congratulatory aspect of Trump's current speech is very much stronger than anything I could find in his earlier interviews.  If he gave himself credit in those, he did it in a much more subtle manner.

I would love to see a proper study of this topic.


* I can't think of a better term for the kind of concreteness I believe his speech conveys.  He seldom leaves the narrow emotional word around Donald Trump, even when he talks about global politics.

** If you wish to spend some time on videos of that type, here are the ones I watched yesterday: Trump 1980Trump 1988 (from 16:14 onward), Trump 1989, Trump 1990, Trump 1998Trump 2005 (with Melania Trump), Trump 2007Trump 2010Trump 2014, Trump 2017