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(Mis)understanding Hillary Clinton's unusual pronunciation

A huge amount has been written about Donald Trump's extremely unusual syntax and tiny vocabulary. In the debate, Trump showed us all he needs to study up on English nouns with sentences like "We need to focus more on cyber" and "I agree that nuclear is an extremely important issue".

However there's something really strange about Hillary Clinton's English that rarely gets discussed: she tends to use connected speech much less than a normal speaker. For example, listen at 1:28:12 ( to how she says "...what we will do, can they rely on us". Her pronunciation of this line is unconventional for a number of reasons:

- Every single word is stressed (normally we'd just stress "what", "do" and "rely")

- She uses the full form "we will" instead of saying "we'll" (we normally only use uncontracted forms in speech when being emphatic or contradicting someone)

- She uses the unreduced pronunciation of "can" (/kæn/). A normal speaker would used the reduced form (/kən/).

Here's a video for you: listen to it, consider these questions:

- What is the missing word in the passage below?

- Why did the language in this video cause significant debate both among Hillary and Trump supporters?

- How would you rate Hillary's pronunciation of the bold part in the passage?

“Because while Warren is standing up for a fairer tax code, Trump wants to cut taxes for the super-rich. Well, we’re not going there, my friends. I’m telling you, right now — we’re going to write fairer rules for the middle class and we _____ going to raise taxes on the middle class!

(note: this is a language discussion, please avoid discussing Hillary or Trump's politics here!)

Sep 27, 2016 11:31 AM
Comments · 19
@aegis: Thanks - you're right. ( But I really wish he'd said "titties" though.
September 28, 2016
@Alan - The titties video was debunked almost immediately after it showed up. There was some sort of audio glitch; he said "cities".
September 28, 2016

By the way, there's nothing unusual at all about someone's accent changing throughout their lives. If an American were to live in the UK for many years, it's extremely likely they'd pick up some British-isms in their accent. Therefore I think it's unfair to consider Hillary's changing accent as political pandering.

Then there's the case of New Zealand's Prime Minister in the 1990s, Jim Bolger. His accent would literally change depending on which country he was visiting on state business: he might give a press conference in the US and unconsciously take on an American accent. I can assure you this wasn't political pandering - he was widely ridiculed at home for this unusual habit, and he offended some host countries, who felt he was caricaturing them. But poor old Jim Bolger just couldn't help it.

September 28, 2016

To my ears, Hillary Clinton does NOT have an east coast accent.  She has consistent traces of her Chicago childhood that persist despite her time in Wellesley, MA, New Haven, CT, Little Rock, AK, Washington, DC, and Chappaqua, NY.

September 28, 2016

Also, in the interest of political neutrality, here's a clip of Trump in which his pronunciation was ruthlessly analysed by critics who claimed that instead of "cities like right here in Detroit", Trump said "titties like right here in Detroit". Listen for yourself...

To me, it really does sound like Trump said "titties"! But in his defense, it's quite possible that it was just a technical glitch in the audio. Language can indeed totally sound different when spoken into a microphone. Pilots and air traffic controllers have to take this into account: for example "five" and "fire" can sound similar on a bad radio line - this misunderstanding could be disastrous in a war situation! Therefore in "pilot English", five might be pronounced as "fife". Here's an example of real-life pilot English.

Hobby airport information sierra, two two five zero Zulu weather, wind one five zero at eight, visibility one zero, sky condition, few clouds at three thousand, temperature two eight, dew point two six, altimeter two niner niner eight

September 28, 2016
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Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Persian (Farsi)
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Chinese (Mandarin), Persian (Farsi)