Tomorrow (Monday) we learn who will be the next British Prime Minister. The bookies have Liz Truss as odds on favourite over her rival, Rishi Sunak. Both candidates appeared on the BBC’s new flagship programme ‘Sunday with Laura Kuennsberg’ this morning. One thing that seemed obvious was the speaking speeds of the two candidates. Truss seems to be quite slow and deliberate whereas Sunak is quite fast and loquacious.
I did a quick calculation to see whether this is borne out in the statistics. It seems it is. Truss came in at 149 words per minute (wpm) whereas Sunak was at 229 words per minute. This difference is highly significant (p=0.0001)*. Truss is even slower than the national average which is 198 wpm (Wang 2021).
There is nothing wrong with speaking slowly and deliberately, of course, as Truss has done throughout this leadership campaign. But it can be perceived as somewhat ‘plodding’ and ‘boring’ for a Prime Minister especially when seen in light of Sunak who comes off as fluent and loquacious. Truss may speed up her delivery when (and if) she takes on the role of Prime Minister. It seems like she has been excessively cautious in what she says over the past few weeks and months in her effort to secure the top job. If she doesn’t, however, we may need more hours in the day!
Fluency can also be indicated by the content of what one says. Truss here again seems to be quite cautions in her approach. Many of her answers start with, or include phrases, such as those below which can be considered holding statements that lack real content and policy announcements. ‘Challenges’ seemed to be her favourite word of the day. Sunak, by contrast, moved much quicker and earlier to policy statements and announcements.
- I think we face some very very serious challenges.
- We have faced tough challenges before. And we’ve got through those challenges. And I’m absolutely confident that we have the wherewithal, the ability to be able to deal with these challenges.
- I absolutely accept that we face very very serious challenges.
- I understand that people are struggling.
- And I understand that, and I can say Laura, that I will act if I’m elected as prime minister. I will act immediately on bills and on energy supply.
- What I can say is that if I’m elected as prime minister…
- And I understand that people are struggling.
- So what I want to reassure people is I will act if elected as prime minister within one week.
Update – 6th Sept.
Liz Truss has just delivered her first speech as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom outside No. 10 Downing Street. The speech was delivered even slower than her Sunday interview at 128 wpm.
Update – 7th Sept. (PMQs)
Liz Truss has just taken part in PMQs against Keir Starmer. Her speaking rate was 147 wpm.
* based on the first five minutes of the interview with Kuenssberg
Wang, Li (2021) British English-Speaking Speed 2020. Academic Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences, Vol.4, Issue 5: 93-100.