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Language analysis of Biden/Palin debate

According to CNN something called Global Language Monitor says that "Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at a more than ninth-grade level and Sen. Joseph Biden spoke at a nearly eighth-grade level in Thursday night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates." It turns out that newspapers are written on a sixth grade reading level, while "Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th-grade level during his seven debates in 1858 against incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in their race for a Senate seat from Illinois." Liberman was next highest, then Reagan, then Kennedy, then Palin. Here is the site for the "media analytics and analysis company." I wonder if the Gettysburg Address (circa 280 words, only 32 or so are Latin based words, the rest Anglo-Saxon) would come in at about a third grade reading level? Amusing.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Those made for an interesting read. I had come to the conclusion that Sarah's language was most convoluted when she was explaining those policies of McCain's which she might not fundamentally believe in. The problem might be that McCain's policies in those areas are not clear, anyhow, or they are really not good ideas, but they are carefully constructed political compromises. She, being a more direct person, is not comfortable with some of McCain's tangled policies. Her language might reflect that discomfort.

The analysis noted that the "passive voice can be used to deflect responsibility; Biden used active voice when referring to [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [President] Bush; Palin countered with passive deflections." "It obscures the doer of the action," said Language Monitor President Paul Payack, an independent with no political affiliation.

The devil is in the details, here. As I said in a thread below, I was listening on the radio and could not unpack her sentences. Thank you, Peter, for those articles. I blamed myself for not comprehending.

But higher grade level doesn't necessarily mean better sentence, Payack said. He pointed to Palin's second-to-last sentence in the debate, which the formula put at a grade level of 18.3: "What I would do, also, if that were ever to happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington," Palin said. "When she said it, it sounded good, but on paper it's a completely different animal," Payack said. "It's like, what is that?"

When she spoke like that, it did not sound good to me. Sarah is fine when she is direct. Reagan may have spoken at a higher grade level than most, but he connected with the American people. Sarah has to be able to do that. Newspaper write at a sixth grade level because what they have to say is for instant consumption and must reach a broad audience. If Miss "Grade 9.5" cannot connect through good ideas. clearly spoken, she had better lower her language level. Straightening out her syntax is a start. Straightening out McCain's politics and policies would be even better.

The Gettysburg Address comes in at Grade Level 8.8.

Paul JJ Payack
The Global Language Monitor

Kate, that last line is a killer... and true.

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