Texas English Linguistics Lab analyzes Trump, Sanders accents

Elizabeth Huang

Presidential candidates businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) are not similar in background or policy, but they have one thing in common: their distinctive New York accents. 

The Texas English Linguistics Lab analyzed the accents of both Sanders and Trump and discovered the similarities and differences between the two candidates. This is the first in a series the lab plans to conduct on Trump and Sanders. They also want to analyze which candidate uses more positive or negative terms and the academic level of each candidate’s words.

English associate professor Lars Hinrichs said his research team was fascinated by how the two very unique candidates have the same accent. 

“We were struck by the strange paradox that the two candidates are entirely different as persons and as politicians, while using such similar accent resources in their linguistic style,” Hinrichs said. “We noticed that we have the capacity, as a lab, to create a dataset and linguistic study of this phenomenon in a very short time.” 

The team collected their data by scanning YouTube for videos of interviews, speeches and debates from the two candidates, which they then transcribed. Afterwards, the transcripts were analyzed through phonetics software. The three-week analysis showed similarities in the candidates’ high use of NYC English features such as r-lessness, pronouncing huge as “yooge” and THOUGHT vowel raising. THOUGHT vowel raising occurs when someone pronounces the “aw” sound in coffee differently than the “ah” in cot.

The lab’s analysis also showed differences in the consistency of their accents. Erica Brozovsky, an English graduate student who worked on the project, said she found the differences in the candidates’ style-shifting the most interesting. 

“Trump is much more likely to change his speech based on audience, while Sanders is stalwart and unwavering in his NYC accent,” Brozovsky said. 

Trump tended to use a heavier New York accent in some speeches, especially in a speech delivered to New Yorkers. When someone gives a speech, they are putting on a persona to appeal to listeners, so it is possible that his style-shifting is a conscious act, Brozovsky said. 

Kirsten Meemann, English graduate student and research team member, said Trump’s speeches help prove the change is consiously done.

“This would also confirm it, as we find that in his speeches rather than in interviews and debates, so it must be conscious to some extent,” Meemann said. “He seems to be aware of his audience.”