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In the UK, some of the debates in the Houses of Parliament are televised. On 18th December 2018, Jeremy Corbyn was filmed muttering something—which was interpreted by a Twitter user as "stupid woman"—to himself in response to a speech to Theresa May, the beleaguered British Prime Minister.

Later, in response to this Twitter accusation, Corbyn said that he had said stupid people, not stupid woman. A lot of media outlets said that several lip-readers that had viewed the footage thought that he had said stupid woman.

However, the other lipreaders that advised the Speaker of the House, who had to rule on whether Jeremy Corbyn had transgressed, said that it was not possible to tell which thing he had said.

If he did or did not say stupid people, how do we know? What is the LINGUISTIC evidence?

If we cannot tell, why is it that it is LINGUISTICALLY ambiguous and that we cannot tell?

An answer to this question would ideally involve some description of articulatory phonetics. (See, for example, StoneyB's comments below)

An explanation of visemes and how this concept bears on the question would also be very welcome.


Here is a video of parts of that original exchange:

Video of May and Corbyn

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    If all the experts cannot agree, it is a tall task to think this community can provide an answer. ps: not my dn vote. – lbf Dec 28 '18 at 2:06
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    Mutters are not usually carefully articulated, at the lips or anywhere else. It has to be virtually impossible to distinguish the pair of labials p..p from the pair w..m, and how much rounding does ʊ get in rapid suppressed speech? – StoneyB Dec 28 '18 at 2:14
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    @HotLicks It is completely and uttely a question about English in every way!!! – Araucaria Dec 28 '18 at 2:15
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    @Araucaria I'll leave a formal answer to someone who can speak with authority on articulatory phonetics: somebody like, oh, you for example! And sure, my upvote--and my concurrence in your defence of the question's Anglicity. – StoneyB Dec 28 '18 at 2:21
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    I downvoted because, while the question is interesting, it doesn't seem to follow the spirit of being "[a] practical, answerable question based on [an] actual problem that you face." Experts are having trouble answering the question and attest how this is unanswerable, so it doesn't seem like your question is answerable with any degree of authority. (Your recent edit may change that, though - just based on what I know - that would incur a long answer.) – TaliesinMerlin Dec 28 '18 at 2:45
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Linguistically, he said 'woman'.

Politically, one is unable to tell.

It has to be judged politically and not linguistically in order to avoid him being forced to apologise and thereby humiliated; or if refusing to apologise, being suspended from the House of Commons because it is against the rules of procedure to treat another member without respect.

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    Welcome to EL&U! Here the focus is often on explaining how we know things as well as what the answer literally is. To refer back to the original question: How do you know linguistically he said woman? Feel free to edit to provide some linguistic evidence. – TaliesinMerlin Jan 31 at 20:14
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    This does not answer the question asked. Politics do not enter into it at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 1 at 1:20

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