Sunday, June 24, 2007

Speaking in Tongues

As the election race heats up, YouTube videos are being disseminated that make arguments about the significance of the candidates' pronunciation. Although pronunciation was never on of the five canons of classical rhetoric, delivery was, and modes of speaking that might indicate class, regional affiliation, and level of education are obviously important in creating compelling oratory.

Online conservative groups have disseminated "Kentucky-Fried Hillary" videos like this one to show the former First Lady and New York Senator as a political chameleon who adapts her accent to the audience. One especially famous segment of a speech that was excerpted by Fox News became a particularly popular viral video. In repackaging the Fox News commentary, some asked "If Hillary Spoke in Front of Gays, Would She Lisp?" Of course, rival video makers have published more of the speech in context to show that Clinton was actually quoting the words of another person when she was adopting dialect.

The pronunciation of the current president has also been an issue in online videos. In "Bush Video 10 Years Ago!," he appears as a much more articulate debater who is comfortable with polysyllabic terms and complex sentence constructions. Some say that evidence exists that he once was even able to pronounce the word "nuclear" in correct phonetic fashion, although Laura Bush denied it two years ago in her famously racy speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

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