29 May 2009

The ‘delicacy’ of Mrs Clinton’s ‘consequences’ for North Korea

First of all, thanks to those of you who took the trouble to make comments about Mrs Clinton’s ‘Consequences’ statement (posted yesterday) – not only because I found them interesting and agree with much of what you said, but also because it was a relief to discover that I wasn’t alone in thinking that there was something rather odd about it.

Some of you may have seen something I posted about the concept of ‘pre-delicate hitches’ a while back, where the general argument is that such hitches (e.g. ums, ers, pauses, etc.) occur when a speaker is about to say something that he or she knows is likely to come across as ‘delicate’ to their listeners.

On watching this sequence again, I realised that it was the first two paragraphs (reproduced and re-transcribed below) that were what had really caught my attention in the first place. In the course of 120 words, there are more than 40 such hitches (i.e. one every three words), not to mention the abstract vagueness of some of the language (‘violate the specific language’, ‘abrogated the obligations it entered into’, ‘consequences’, ‘behaviour’, ‘framework’, etc.).

The 'uhs' and frequency and duration of pauses bring down the speed of her delivery to about 92 words per minute (i.e. words other than 'uh' or 'um'), which is extremely slow compared with the ‘ideal’ speed for public speakers of somewhere between 120-140 words per minute (which is also much slower than normal conversational speeds of around 180 words per minute).

Interestingly, the number of 'hitches' diminishes once she moves on to the second part of the statement, which was delivered at the much more satisfactory rate of 130 words per minute.

Two factors may have influenced this. One was that the hitches came at their thickest and fastest when the key audience most likely to find what she was saying particularly ‘delicate’ was the North Koreans themselves.

The other was that, to be fair to Mrs Clinton, this was not a pre-prepared speech but came in answer to a question at a press conference taking place in Egypt, very soon after the news from North Korea had come through. So it’s possible that there hadn’t been enough time for her to get a full briefing from State Department specialists, which meant that she had no choice but to make it up as she went along (i.e. ‘busk’ it).

(N.B. This revised transcript uses a convention that’s also useful for marking up scripts of speeches before delivery that's described in Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 299-301, where a single slash indicates a slight pause of a fifth to half a second and a double slash indicates a longer pause of half a second to a second).

North Korea has made // uhh //a choice. // It has chosen to // violate the // u-specific language / of the / uh // UN Security Council Resolution 1718. // It has ignored the international community. // It has abrogated the obligations it entered into / through the Six-Party Talks. // And it uh continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner / uh toward its neighbors.// There are consequences to such actions.//

In the United Nations uh as we speak / discussions are going on to // uh // add to the / uh / consequences that North Korea / will face // u-coming out of the latest uh // u-behavior / u-with the // uh / intent to // u-try to rein in / uh the North Koreans // uh and get them back into a framework where they are once again // uh fulfilling their obligations and moving toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


For her more fluent continuation and the rest of the statement, see video and transcript on yesterdays posting.

P.S. And, thanks to a link from Charles Crawford, see HERE for a fascinating article on the Clintons' problems since Obama took over.

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