Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
Kitty Burns Florey's attempt to diagram Sarah Palin's sentences was a hit this week. Even before Tina Fey's dead-on impersonations brought attention to the VP candidate's tortured linguistic style, language itself was already a campaign theme, starting with Hillary's famous declaration during the primaries: "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose." After the frequent attacks on Obama's "lofty" (and, therefore, supposedly empty) rhetoric, Sarah Palin's syntax is in some respects just the latest to come under scrutiny.
If diagramming was intended as the most neutral and objective way to decipher meaning in Palin's speech—a candidate who has elicited enormous curiosity since her introduction to the national stage in September—Ischua dismisses the diagramming exercise as "petty partisan parsing."
kaboku68, a schoolteacher from Chitina, Alaska, writes in to say that "[w]e have a different form of syntax. … Alaskans often have elements of the indigenious [sic] languages of … Alaskan Natives involved in their speaking patterns" (a claim contested vigorously by Fritz Gerlich).
For WetHen here, the debate format may have had an effect:
Palin's object was to only sound decisive, matching her punchy delivery method to that of Biden's forceful style. The words -- they didn't matter. Anything that sounded like a word would do as long as she didn't pause, didn't sound thoughtful, didn't break pace.
northwoods describes the VP candidate's "Joycean stream of consciousness" as a generalized condition among politicians, who "never mind the meaning … fill up time so that the questioner is defeated and time runs out."
the little I've read about linguistics suggests, counter-intuitively, that the coherence and diagramability of [Palin's] speech aren't reliable indicators of her intelligence or clarity of thought. Chomsky's notion that language isn't the product of some sort of general intelligence, but of a specific module in the brain, is generally accepted today.