18 September 2012

Does Mitt Romney's mouth move faster than his brain?

I've not studied Mitt Romney's style of speaking in much detail, but there may be a clue in his latest gaffe (above) as to why I'd felt there was something a bit odd about him.

It's the sheer speed at which he speaks.

Speeches by effective public speakers are delivered at about 120 words per minute, which is much slower than the 180 words per minute found in conversations between native speakers of English (see my books).

But in the sequence that got him into so much trouble, Mr Romney manages about 200 words per minute - i.e. 20 words per minute quicker than conversation.

Apart from the fact that this is abnormally fast for a conversation (let alone a speech) it raises two intriguing quetions:

  1. Is he speaking too quickly for his brain to be able to produce carefully considered and/or 'elegantly stated' opinions?
  2. How, in American culture, is 'fast-speaking' likely to be regarded by the wider public?

For what it's worth, to my British ears, 'fast-speaking' tends to have mainly negative connotations...


Obama London said...

I'd like someone to explain to me what the elegant way of saying "$7% of the voting population are a bunch of lazy scroungers"? ;)

In other words, I think it's the ideas behind what Romney said, not the speed with which he said it that's getting him in trouble here.

But as for your answer about what Americans think of fast talkers in general - I think context matters a lot. North Easterners talk a lot quicker than the southerners/midwesterners.

Andy Hume said...

I work as a debating coach, and I can tell you that since I took part in international competition myself as a student (15 or so years ago), debaters have speeded up their delivery considerably. Everyone basically talks at a million miles an hour, largely because judges decide debates on content and organisation, rather than style. (At the highest level, anyway.) It used to be that Americans were the "worst" for this, but everyone else has caught up. It's somewhat depressing.

Claire Duffy said...

Yes Andy, I do the same thing in Australia and I completely agree - it's happening here too. Kids take no interest in being good to listen to, which seems to me to undermine the whole point of the exercise. We need role models! More here if you're interested: http://wp.me/p2k3hy-vp

O'pinions said...

What is causing some discussion in America is how lucid and free-flowing the speech pattern is. He is very comfortable here among this crowd of "haves" whereas on the stump he stumbles because he is unsure of the crowd. Some commentators say it also because he is truth-telling fearlessly, whereas on the stump he needs to be more careful (maybe not so truthful)? Truthiness as was used in '08! Be useful to see some historical context to this.

M Medlock said...

Another reason for speeding up is that there seems to be a rumour going around that fast talkers are perceived as being more intelligent.

I came across this ascertion a couple of years ago in a presentation course I was giving to Business English learners. Now I seem to read and hear it everywhere.

Is there any research I can point people to so that I can counter this?