Hillary Clinton, the arithmetic lady

Hillary Clinton is a strong communicator: she owns her words. She also owns her silences.

She’s strategic

Why do we so often fall into into slips of the tongue when we speak? Because our brain plans speech movements in a linear way: a sound at a time. Sometimes we decide to use a different word when our lips have already started to pronounce it. Then, we need to stop and start anew, and the discarded word leaves a hearable trace.

Mrs. Clinton thinks fast and speaks slow, that’s her way to avoid mistakes. During her answering of questions, though, she said, “I believe I have met m all my responsibilities…” The m after ‘met’ proves that her first thought was to say, “I believe I have met my responsibilities,” but then she decided to make the statement stronger by inserting the word ‘all.’

She talks keeping her eyes on the prize.

Another way she dodges those language-thought adjustment slips is by pausing. Whenever she finds it hard to phrase her responses, she scatters them with ‘filled pauses:’ the uhs, ahs and ums one produces when trying to find the perfect way to say something–or no to say it.

She aims at perfection

Perfectionism holds tightness by the hand: it takes effort to achieve the high standards. Mrs. Clinton’s articulatory muscles –tongue, lips and jaw– accurately produce perfect vowels and consonants. As a consequence, her larynx is strained.

Her throat is firmly clenched at the end of some sentences, before breathing, or at the beginning of a sentence, producing a tense humming or a very hard glottal stop.

Her throat is so tight that her voice breaks here and there. What we call ‘voice breaks’ occur when too tense vocal folds are unable to maintain the tension; the “muscle of voice”–vocalis muscle– relaxes and there’s a sudden lift of the voice pitch.

Spectrogram of Mrs. Clinton’s voice: “… the records, uh, that were provided.” A voice break is heard in the word “provided”; the blue line shows the voice frequency suddenly going up.

Tongue clicks are another typical phonetic consequence of perfectionists’ tightness. Whenever Mrs. Clinton ends a sentence, she firmly closes her mouth. Then, when she opens it to breath in, her tongue is so tightly and strongly pressed against her palate, that a characteristic sound is noticed.

She’s in charge of her words, she controls her silences

She’s used to power

Mrs. Clinton’s voice sounds authoritative: it’s deep – for the average feminine voice pitch, usually around 200 Hz (Herz) – and strong. But those acoustic traits of power are somehow soften when she answers difficult questions: the average intensity of her voice falls from 62 dB (Decibels) to 57 dB. Her average voice frequency hikes from the deep 189 Hz to 207 Hz. Simply said, her voice sounded softer and higher-pitched when she responded to the journalists’ questions–it also sounded more natural to a voice expert‘s ears.

Low strong voices, of course, are more masculine than high and soft ones. Does a woman need a “masculine” voice in order to succeed in politics? But that’s another story.


Listeners appreciate authenticity over power. A moderate use of pauses make our speech sound creative instead of learnt by heart. Voice irregularities – vocal fry, voice breaks – make us sound human; and some degree of imperfection – tongue slips, stuttering – make us appear bold and calm in front of the audience.

Sounding too eager to convince may push listeners away.

3 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton, the arithmetic lady

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