The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) says Donald Trump stated in an interview:

I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

Trump denies this, claiming that he said:

I'd probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

Let's call the first sentence A and the second one B.

The WSJ then released a recording claiming to corroborate that Trump said A.

Surprisingly, the White House then released a recording claiming to corroborate that Trump said B.

Perhaps this is a case where the tools and expertise of phonetics (such as spectrographic analysis) could be convincing. Do the recordings provide any evidence that Trump said (or attempted to say) "I'd" here, i.e. that he said (or attempted to say) B and not A?

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    It's impossible to tell without palatographic evidence. The "I probably have" interpretation makes absolutely no sense, if that's relevant.
    – user6726
    Jan 14, 2018 at 23:01
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it has nothing to do with Linguistics. Jan 15, 2018 at 1:32
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    @bytebuster: Really? It seems to me like the kind of thing Mark Liberman might post about on Language Log. Colin, if your question is closed here, I think you should consider sending Liberman an email. He's made blog posts in the past about linguistic features of interest in things presidents have said, he's interested in the topic of accurate quotations in journalism, and he is an expert in the area of phonetics/phonology so he should be able to say something intelligent about possible phonetic analysis. Jan 15, 2018 at 5:40
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    @sumelic In fact, Liberman just posted about it languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=36251#more-36251
    – Colin
    Jan 15, 2018 at 6:15
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    Unfortunately, the fact that this question was closed shows - very clearly - the current state of affairs on LE. From a vibrant platform for insightful discussion of matters that make linguists’ hearts beat faster it has turned into a lackluster website full of put-on-hold/voted-down questions.
    – Alex B.
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


No, the conflicting claims about what was said are not necessarily a phonetic issue. We ordinarily refer to what was intended or perceived to be said when quoting or otherwise characterizing what someone said. For instance, if you say "Ib probably" that might well be interpreted, and quoted as "I'd probably", because in American English, a t/d/n before a word starting with p/b/m often becomes a labial, pronounced with the two lips, in partial agreement with the following labial p/b/m.

This and perhaps further phonetic changes could make "I'd probably", as measured by instruments, sound like "I probably".

  • Fair point, but it seems to me that what was intended to be said, what was perceived to be said, and what was said are 3 different things, which may or may not be defined for a given utterance. In the scenario you describe, "I'd probably" is what was perceived, and "Ib probably" is what was said. I'm asking what was said by Trump (as what was perceived to be said is clear, and what was intended is less determinable).
    – Colin
    Jan 14, 2018 at 23:38
  • I've edited the question to clarify that I am asking whether the recordings provide positive evidence for the presence of "'d" at all. (That he said "I...probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un. " is not in dispute)
    – Colin
    Jan 14, 2018 at 23:46
  • I don't see how you clarified the question at all. Are you asking about his articulation? His intention to articulate? The acoustics of what was conveyed in the online recordings? The acoustics of what came out of his mouth? What words he had in mind to use? What are our choices (you present a false dichotomy, which makes sense only if you are not asking about his actual speech but are using his speech as potential evidence about his word-intent). In other words, that do you even mean by "what was said"?
    – user6726
    Jan 15, 2018 at 5:55
  • @user6726 what I added was " Do the recordings provide any evidence that Trump said "I'd" here, i.e. that he said B and not A?". That is, is there any acoustic evidence present in the recordings that "'d" was said?
    – Colin
    Jan 15, 2018 at 6:10
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    I agree that phonetics may not help us much here. cf. Saur's comment "Trump's idiosyncratic pseudo-humble "probably" [...] is certainly IRR, but he has a notably shaky grasp on how Anglophones typically express themselves subjunctively. He frequently omits modals and auxiliaries and enjoys inhabiting a kind of beatific flowing present from which he may pluck ideas about the future and experiences from the past without the bother of a grammatical change to mark the departure of time and tense" [emphasis mine - A.B.].
    – Alex B.
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:54

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