Prosody and Political Style: The Case of Barack Obama and the L+H* Pitch Accent

Nicole Holliday, Jason Bishop, Grace Kuo


Intonational differences between Mainstream U.S. English (MUSE) and African American Language (AAL) have long been described, but there has recently been increased interest in describing intonational variation, especially for speakers of AAL ([1]; [2] inter alia). In this study, we explore Barack Obama’s speech in this context, using the tools of the AM framework ([3];[4];[5]) as well as phonetic implementation measures, to focus on lesser-studied prosodic characteristics. We analyzed a corpus of Obama’s speech, consisting of 169 Intonational Phrases collected for a study by [6], and annotated using MAE-ToBI ([7];[8]) as well as phonetic measures. The corpus was subsequently annotated for affect following ([9]; [10]; [11]). Results of regression analyses indicated affective meaning contrasts were predictive of neither Obama’s boundary tones, nor their phonetic realization. However, affect was significantly associated with Obama’s pitch accent patterns; in particular, negative affect was found to be predictive of Obama’s use of L+H*, and its phonetic characteristics (steeper rises and higher peaks with negative affect). These findings differ from those in previous studies of both black and white speakers in formal contexts ([12];[13]). We discuss results in the context of this work and consider implications for how intonational features are involved in sociopolitical meaning.


 DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-137

Cite as: Holliday, N., Bishop, J., Kuo, G. (2020) Prosody and Political Style: The Case of Barack Obama and the L+H* Pitch Accent. Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020, 670-674, DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-137.


@inproceedings{Holliday2020,
  author={Nicole Holliday and Jason Bishop and Grace Kuo},
  title={{Prosody and Political Style: The Case of Barack Obama and the L+H* Pitch Accent}},
  year=2020,
  booktitle={Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020},
  pages={670--674},
  doi={10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-137},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-137}
}