17 August 2011

Yvette Cooper's precisely timed response to a contrast from Ed Miliband

I noted a while back in a post showing how a member of the audience anticipated the answer to a rhetorical question by David Cameron that television editors are sometimes very helpful in providing detailed data on the interaction between a speaker and audience.

In that particular case, the camera switched from speaker to audience just before he delivered the answer to his question - with which a woman in the audience (on the left of the screen) was already agreeing before he actually got there (for more discussion of which, see HERE):


In the House of Commons, some members of the audience are routinely visible behind the person who's speaking, as in this next clip from Ed Miliband's speech in the debate about last week's riots.

What's interesting is that it shows just how quickly some listeners can and do respond when a speaker uses a rhetorical technique - in this case a contrast, with repetition and alliteration - to make a pont:

[A] To seek to explain
[B] is not to seek to excuse.

Yvette Cooper, behind his right shoulder, starts nodding in agreement before he gets to the end of the word "excuse" - at which point the MP sitting behind her starts to nod too:


In Our Masters' Voices (1984) I suggested that contrasts work to trigger applause (and other positive reactions) because the first part enables listeners to anticipate and identify precisely when the speaker reaches the end of the second part.

What I liked about this sequence, apart from Ed Miliband's neat contrast, was the way in which we can actually see Ms Cooper's positive response getting under way a split second before he's finished saying the word "excuse".

Foot note
This was also the first speech I'd heard from Mr Miliband since his nose operation and all the speculation about whether its real aim was to change his voice or to cure his sleep apnoea, which had made me curious to see if he sounded any different than he did before the operation.

As far as I could tell, his voice sounded exactly the same, but I do hope that the operation will have given his wife and children some relief from his alleged snoring - I say 'alleged' because I too am regularly accused of the same offence, even no one in the family has ever managed to produce any evidence (other than hearsay) in support of their complaints.

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