From Hillary Clinton to Virginia Woolf, a debate on the use of the “I”.
In her book What happened, Clinton maintains that among all of the reasons why she failed at the American elections of 2016, an important role was played by the fact that she did not talk about herself. In other words, she states that during her campaign, she did not often say “I”. In the same chapter, she relates this characteristic to her existence as a woman. This consideration can be linked to another literary work, where similar ideas can be read between the lines, in a different context. In her book “A room of one’s own”, Virginia Woolf observes that “it was delightful to read a man’s writing again. [...] But after reading a chapter or two, a shadow seemed to lie across the page, a shadow shaped something like the letter ‘I’. [...] One began to be tired of ‘I’.”
Coming back to the subject of the present investigation, it was necessary to verify, whether Clinton was telling the truth in her book, that is, whether it was really the case that she did not say “I” very often.
An analysis of the three presidential debates between Trump and Clinton was carried out and the results were then represented in word clouds. It must be underlined that both grammatical and lexical words were considered, and that the same analysis was done for the other two presidential debates, which gave very similar results.
|Clinton (1st presidential debate)
|Trump (1st presidential debate)
It can be noted that, actually, the difference between the two candidates in terms of frequency of use of the pronoun “I” is not large. In fact, both say “I”, but while in Clinton’s utterances there’s a high frequency of the use of “we”, this is not the case in Trump’s way of speaking. Megan Risdal shows that the frequency of “I” in Clinton’s utterances in the first debate is higher than in Trump’s ones , as her graph shows.
Having considered the data, it is evident that a qualitative analysis is needed here: while Donald Trump often uses the pronoun “I” to talk about himself (e.g. “I am very underleveraged. I have a great company. I have a tremendous income. And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocios way. It's because it's about time that this country had somebody running it that has an idea about money.” - from the first presidential debate), Hillary Clinton’s use of the same pronoun seems less “personal”, in the sense that the amount of personal content that she delivers to the audience seems to be actually reduced.
However, it must be underlined that these results are to be considered only as a starting point: a deeper study would be needed to get to scientific conclusions.
Clinton, Hillary. 2017. What happened. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Woolf, Virginia. 1929. A room of one's own. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.