Trump in conversation: textures of glossolalia


Jan Blommaert

After the disaster of his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally and the appearance of a book by former Trump Cabinet member John Bolton, Donald Trump sought refuge in the safe bubble of Fox’s Sean Hannity. Together they had what is called a “townhall”. And here is one fragment from it. Hannity asks a question.


The question is straightforward and offers Trump every chance of taking his answer in the direction of his choice. It’s about the differences Trump anticipates in his second term as president of the United States.

Here is Trump’s answer, first in a “flat” transcript.


Let’s take a closer look at this, for this stretch of discourse of 160 words long can be divided into units that, jointly, form a kind of argument. Let’s do just that: make these units visible and annotate them in terms of content and internal relationships. Their “coherence”, in other words, or how they make sense as an answer. We get something like this.

Trumps opens with a phrase directly engaging with Hannity’s question: “Well one of the things that will be really great..You know”. And then he embarks on a pretty long and complex argument. Note: I use the term “argument” in a technical sense here, as something all of us quite systematically try to construct in interaction with others in order to make a point.

jpg transcript

He opens with a 33-word statement on the relevance of the word “experience”, and he offers us a general direction here for his answer: what will be so great in my second term will have to do with experience. In formulating this direction, however, he gets badly sidetracked, almost contradicting himself (“I always say talent is more important than experience; I’ve always said that”).

What follows next is an elaborate take off point revolving around the broad theme of “I was inexperienced” when he got elected in 2016. The elaboration of that point consumes quite a bit of space: 68 words are spent on detailing how inexperienced he was in and with Washington DC when he became the resident of the White House.

Then he arrives at the point he intimated from the outset: now I’m experienced; or at least, “now I know everybody, and I have great people in the Administration”. From a viewpoint of conversational flow and coherence, this 12-word statement is the real answer to Hannity’s question. This (“Now I know everybody” etc.) is the big difference Trump anticipates when he gets re-elected.

He gets instantly sidetracked as soon as he’s uttered this key point of his answer, and he goes off-topic, for here comes John Bolton. As a tag-on of his claim to having “great people in the Administration”, he remarks that “You make some mistakes. Like you know an idiot like Bolton”. Who then gets blasted in the remainder of the answer. The entire off-topic coda to the answer takes 35 words, about the equivalent of his opening musings on the topic of “experience”.

How about coherence in this argument? Well, there is the flimsy line

  • “experience is important
  • > I was inexperienced in 2016
  • > now I know everybody”

And one could infer an implicit “ergo, I am experienced now” from all this. But from the viewpoint of argumentation, clarity and information balance we have seen that the answer is badly built: Trump appears to struggle throughout to follow the direction he announced initially, seems to lose his way in the web of sidetracking details and points he provides, and loses the point he’s making as soon as he’s found it, by aiming his guns at the “idiot” Bolton. So in terms of coherence, not much can be found here. We’re observing a painful example of someone having trouble to stay on topic and to develop a line of reasoned argument, and who comes up with something that is entirely off-balance. We’re seeing textures here of glossolalia.

(Comedian Sarah Cooper did her version of this particular fragment; watch it here).





Author: jmeblommaert

Taalkundig antropoloog-sociolinguist, hoogleraar Taal, Cultuur en Globalisering aan Tilburg University. Politiek publicist.

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