Obama, Rice, accomplished models of African-American leaders: Study

January 14th, 2009 - 3:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 14 (IANS) Race and gender influence how politicians speak, which might not always be to their advantage, according to a psycho-linguistic study. But there are notable exceptions like Barack Obama and Condoleezza Rice, who unlike the past generation of African-American leaders, display self-confidence and serenity and remain calm and composed under stress.

The researchers, focusing on Obama’s language, found that his presentation of himself is nothing like the traditional black political orator Martin Luther King or Jesse Jackson.

Both Obama and Rice are accomplished models of a new generation of African American leaders. It seems that they need to be even more careful about what they say than their white political colleagues, because they are judged on the use of their language differently than their white counterparts, the study pointed out.

Camelia Suleiman and Daniel O Connell from Florida International and Georgetown Universities, respectively, compared the speech of male and female, and black and white politicians to determine whether ethnicity and gender play a role in the way they speak.

They studied transcripts of interviews between Larry King on CNN TV and Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.

Specifically, they looked at how the politicians’ speech was constructed: the number of syllables spoken, the use of interjections, interruptions, self-referent ‘I’, non-standard English such as ‘gonna’, y’ know, and laughter.

Their analysis shows that language reflects a social hierarchy that is not explicitly acknowledged. The “subordinate” roles of black race and female gender are revealed in speech patterns with “dominant” white males, said a Florida release.

And they are expressed differently in conversations with a white female, a black male and a black female. In effect, a degree of racism and sexism is reproduced by the very people who oppose these societal attitudes.

These findings were published online in Springer’s Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

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