14 October 2004

11. Intonation Patterns

Regarding “style” and “personality” and all that other fuzzy stuff that keeps our radio talk-show hosts employed, Bush continued to use those petulant intonations he’s so famous for. After the debate, I kept repeating his phrases out loud, trying to figure out what the tone contours were really saying. Finally, it came to me. Bush uses two main intonation patterns. One is the “victim” intonation used by a child complaining to his mother, “But Mom, Jimmy keeps stealing my ball? He won’t stop? Do something about it?” This is that rising intonation we hear every time Bush tries to elicit our sympathy because that tall mean Kerry keeps picking on him. The other intonation pattern is the flipside of the former: an abusive mother in a Walmart verbally abusing her kid. “Now you get this straight young man. I am not going to put up with this any longer. Get your foot off the cart this minute!” Maybe Bush’s intonation is meant to get us in the mood for family values. We feel sorry for poor Jimmy who lost his ball while we also feel put in our place as our mother screams at us. Bush’s voice is thus a familiar “American” voice from our childhoods—but definitely not the voice of someone I want leading the country.

Some links to excellent post-debate analysis can be found on the Progressive Blog Alliance site.

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