Word clouds drift apart in Obama’s speeches to the Muslim world

November 10, 2010

obama jakartaWord clouds are graphic games that sometimes tell more than a plain text. Look at the results below for U.S. President Barack Obama’s “speech to the Muslim world” today in Jakarta and his first such address in Cairo last year. I’ve analysed the two in a report here, but word clouds tell the story a different way.

(Photo: President Barack Obama in Jakarta, 10 Nov 2010/Barbara Walton)

Judging by the frequency of the words, today’s speech was much more a speech about Indonesia than anything else. The message to the greater Muslim world — here’s what the world’s largest Muslim country can do! — only comes through between the lines. But it was clear enough when Obama strung these words into sentences.

Another point is how strong the focus is on secular concepts such as democracy, progress and development. “Muslim” and “Islam” are also-rans while “Koran” doesn’t appear at all.

Barack Obama in Jakarta, November 10, 2010


obama cairoWhat a contrast to his speech in Cairo, a centre of the Arab and Muslim world. “Muslim” and “Muslims” are right up there, the third and sixth most frequent words he used. “Islam” is prominent, as are “religion” and “faith.”  You can find “Koran” in there too.

(Photo: President Barack Obama in Cairo, 4 June 2009/Goran Tomasevic)

The secular terms are much more specific to the Middle East — “Palestinian” and “Israelis”, “violence” and “peace.”  Another contrast to today’s speech — last year’s host country, Egypt, merited only two mentions. It didn’t even make it into the word cloud. Cairo got four mentions, half the total that Jakarta merited today. But we can chalk a lot of that up to nostalgia. As a boy, Obama ran along paddy fields in Jakarta, not down the dusty alleys of Cairo.

Barack Obama in Cairo, June 4, 2009


Another point that jumps from the page — the most frequent words in both speeches are “people” and “world” and “America”. Obama is, after all, the democratic leader of a world power.

For stats buffs, the Cairo speech was almost twice as long as Jakarta’s — 6,094 words vs. 3,380. The most frequent words — apart from ones like “the” or “and” — were:

Cairo Jakarta


People 45 Indonesia 49
World 29 People 20
Muslim 27 World 14
America 26 Democracy 14
Peace 19 United States 10
Muslims 19 Indonesians 10
Islam 18 Indonesian 10
Countries 16 Human 10
Community 15 America 10
Country 14 Progress 9

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