Tuesday, 13 Jan, 2009 Science

Race and Gender Influence the Way Politicians Speak


According to a research carried out by Camelia Suleiman from Florida International University and Daniel O'Connell from Georgetown University, there is a direct connection between race and gender and the way politicians speak. The results of the study were published in the online journal entitled Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

The two scientists analyzed the language of male and female, black and white politicians in order to find if race and gender can influence the way politicians speak. Suleiman and O'Connell watched interviews between Larry King and Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. They mainly analyzed the construction of speech of each politician, and namely: how many syllables were spoken, the number of interjections, interruptions, self-referent "I" used. They also paid attention on non-standard English used by the politicians, including such words as "gonna", "y'know", and laughter.

The study carried out by Suleiman and O'Connell shows that language represents a social hierarchy that is not explicitly acknowledged. Speech can reveal the "subordinate" roles of women and black people with the "dominant" role of white men. These roles are expressed in different ways with a white woman, a black man and a black woman. A certain degree of racism and sexism is expressed by those who oppose these societal attitudes.

Mainly the two scientists focused on the language of the president-elect Barack Obama. He expresses self-confidence and remains calm and self-possessed under stress. Mr. Obama does not reveal obvious emotion. Researchers state that Barack Obama and Condoleeza Rice represent accomplished examples of a new generation of African American leaders. Scientists consider that such leaders have to be even more cautious about their speech than their white counterparts. This is because people judge their speech differently than their white colleagues.

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