Linguistic Anthropology

The study of language has been part of anthropology since the discipline started in the 1ate 1870s. This site is a place for linguistic anthropologists to post their work and discuss important events and trends in the field.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mr Romney's speech error

The Associated Press (among others) is reporting on a recent speech error by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Actually, just look at what Osam — Barack Obama — said just yesterday. Barack Obama, calling on radicals, jihadists of all different types, to come together in Iraq.

Of course, it was Osama bin Laden, not Barack Obama, who recently called on various insurgent groups in Iraq to work together.

Psychologists, phonologists and others have described this sort of speech error in terms of phonological priming. The names Obama and Osama share the same initial syllable and the same final syllable. They differ only in the onset of the second syllable - /ba/ versus /sa/. It is not surprising, then, that Romney should accidentally produce the former in place of the latter name, especially if he had heard the name Obama recently.

It is more striking, though, that Mr Romney apparently began to produce the intended Osama, but then "corrected" it to the full first+last name, Barack Obama.

There are several possible explanations for this. For example, both men are political actors, adding a semantic link to the phonological one. Also, Mr bin Laden is more often referred to by his given name than is Mr Obama1.

It is also possible that the quote in the AP article is not a precise indication of what Mr Romney said. I have not heard an audio recording of the South Carolina speech. If you know of one, please share it with us.

1A quick Google search for the phrases "Osama said", "bin Laden said", "Barack said" and "Obama said" turns up more hits for Osama than for Barack, but fewer than for Obama or even bin Laden.

bin Laden66,000


Blogger . . . said...


thank you for bringing this to my attention. i am terrible when it comes to keeping up with current events . . .

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home