October 17, 2007

The tale of the tape: Those fast-talking southerners

Well, John Edwards, anyhow. He talks about 10% faster than Hillary Clinton, and about 25% faster than Bill Richardson. On the other hand, Mitt Romney, the overall fast-talking champ among the serious presidential hopefuls, has him beat by 12%. At least, that's the tale of the tape in the most recent Democratic and Republican debates.

The NYT has been trying hard to improve its web presence, with blogs springing up like mushrooms in all the nooks and crannies of its site. They've also begun deploying interactive flash apps for one kind of analysis or another, including this one for the Sept. 26 Democratic debate, and this one for the Oct. 9 Republican debate, which are meant to help you navigate the transcripts and the video recordings.

I like this approach to multimedia navigation and annotation -- if you're interested in exploring such things for yourself, you might take a look at Project Pad, among other free software efforts to create tools for this sort of thing. Flash produces a nice, crisply responsive user experience -- though it's unfortunate from my point of view that users can't cut and paste content easily. (On the other hand, I suppose that many "content providers" think that this is a good thing).

Anyhow, for this morning's Breakfast Experiment™ I thought I'd take advantage of the rather modest annotation offered by these specific NYT apps, which present a summary by speaker of word counts, speaking times and speech rates (in words per minute). (I obviously don't vouch for the details behind these numbers. Different ways of quantifying word counts and speaking time can produce quite different speech-rate numbers, as discussed here -- and I'm not even sure that the NYT used the same methods to calculate word counts and speaking times in the two debates. So caveat lector...)

From the Oct. 9 Republican debate:

  Words Time Rate
Moderator 3018 15:56 189
Sam Brownback 1558 7:58 196
Rudolph Giuliani 2964 14:25 206
Mike Huckabee 1669 8:03 207
Duncan Hunter 1095 5:48 189
John McCain 2099 11:59 175
Ron Paul 1067 5:43 187
Mitt Romney 3084 13:57 221
Tom Tancredo 1377 7:01 196
Fred Thompson 2910 15:57 182
All candidates 17823 90:51 196.2

The Sept. 26 Democratic debate:

  Words Time Rate
Moderator 3670 21:02 174
Allison King
(asked questions)
426 2:31 169
Joe Biden 1402 7:23 190
Hillary Clinton 3153 17:14 183
Chris Dodd 2202 9:56 222
John Edwards 2478 12:20 201
Mike Gravel 776 4:27 174
Dennis Kucinich 1423 7:31 189
Barack Obama 2582 13:47 187
Bill Richardson 1948 12:04 161
All candidates 15964 84:42 188.5

Overall, the Republican candidates are about 4% faster on average; but an unpaired t-test on the candidates' rates suggests that this difference is not statistically significant. It's perhaps worth noting, though, that stereotypes are not in general confirmed: John Edwards, despite his southern drawl, is around the 75% percentile of this bunch. Hillary Clinton, who as a woman should by stereotype be a faster talker than her male competitors, is below the median in this sample.

[Update -- Ben Zimmer observes:

Clearly, it's the Southwest where people talk slowly, given the low rates for New Mexico's Richardson and Arizona's McCain. They've obviously learned to conserve their energy to adapt to the desert climate...


Posted by Mark Liberman at October 17, 2007 09:53 AM