Donald Trump's supporters often praise how the politician gives voice to harsh truths. But that voice itself, that unmistakable instrument, has been a noteworthy element of Trump's populist image.
Though he grew up in privilege, eventually attending college at Wharton, Trump hasn't shed his Queens accent. Today, that accent helps him summon the stereotype of the blunt, no-nonsense New Yorker.
"He wants to sound macho," explains John Baugh, a linguistics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "As part of his whole tough-guy persona, he adopts almost a working-class style of speech."
To understand how this accent is pivotal to our perception of Trump, consider the video below, recently posted by comedian Peter Serafinowicz:
"I watch a lot of his speeches," Serafinowicz said in an email. "He pretty much says the same things over and over - the 'wall', immigrants, politicians are stupid, his constant boasting . . . can you imagine Obama or Bush or Clinton saying to a crowd 'Has anyone read my book?' "
The video pokes fun at Trump's macho stylings by assigning him one of the world's fanciest-sounding accents. The words are still Trump's, but when they come through in those British tones, Trump's entire demeanor seem to change. He appears smarter. More refined.
"I found it quite amusing," Baugh says, of the juxtaposition. "This isn't just a British accent," he explains. "It's what the British call Received Pronunciation - it's the upper class variety of the British accent, which conveys a very lofty and haughty linguistic demeanor."
The video illustrates that the way politicians talk can have a profound impact on how we understand them. This is no secret, of course. Every day, we judge people - consciously or subconsciously - by their styles of speaking. Our voices contain clues to where we grew up, where our parents came from, where we learned English. People often modify their natural accents to avoid stigma, or to invite a favourable assumption, because linguistic discrimination is real.
"It's pretty much universal," says Nicole Holliday, a linguistics PhD candidate at New York University who studies language and identity. "You can go anywhere in the world and ask who speaks the 'bad' version of the language - and invariably, it's the people who are marginalised, who are rural, poor, or belong to religious minorities."
Accents activate stereotypes. People do not perceive the New York style of speaking as particularly attractive or high-status. But they do associate it with competence, aggressiveness and directness.
"Democrat or Republican, in an age where trust in politicians is at a minimum, it is not hard to see the attraction of that blunt aspect of the New York image," Michael Newman, a linguist at Queens College and CUNY's Graduate Center, writes. "It's a quality that can be profoundly appealing."
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