This year's presidential campaign is filled with interesting word choices and rhetorical devices. Like many members of the news media, I am fascinated with Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president. She seems to have struck a chord with many people, and she appears to be a good communicator. Some pundits have compared her to President Reagan and praise her folksy approach.
On the other hand, Palin has been lampooned and derided for her interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric. She appears to have redeemed herself in Thursday night's debate with the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden. Palin spoke directly into the camera during the debate, and she steered the debate toward topics that she wanted to address rather than the questions that the moderator asked.
I've read several columns about her speech and rhetoric, and I am linking to several of them in this post. (You may have to register with sites to read them -- a fact of life in this information-gathering age.)
I had wondered about Palin's dialect. Why does she sound as if she's from Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon or stepped out of the Coen brothers' "Fargo"? This op-ed piece in the New York Times explains it: The valley where she grew up in Alaska was settled by people from Minnesota. The piece, written by Harvard professor and language commentator Steven Pinker, also explains the difference between a debate performance and a one-on-one interview.
Maureen Dowd draws on her experience covering the first Bush White House to delve into Palin's sometimes convoluted speech. Dowd's assessment is that Palin speaks in "homespun haikus."
Kitty Burns Florey, who wrote a book about diagramming sentences, tries her hand at marking up some of Palin's sentences in this piece in Slate. Of course, if you try to diagram anyone's extemporaneous sentences, you're liable to become lost in the branches, but Florey makes a valiant effort.
Kelly Nuxoll, on the Huffington Post, writes that Palin's syntax is less than transparent and seems to obscure accountability.
This CNN report undercuts all the talk about the folksiness of Palin's speech. A language expert says Palin spoke at a higher grade level than Biden in the debate. Paul Payack of the Global Language Monitor also says that Palin used more passive constructions.
If you want to read more about the language analysis of the presidential campaign, the Language Montior site is a valuable spot to check. The analysis of the first McCain-Obama debate called it a "linguistic dead-heat."
Of course, the last word on politicians and their performances may come from the way they appear not in the news media but in the entertainment media. Tina Fey has been portraying Sarah Palin to hilarious and perhaps devastating effect on "Saturday Night Live." Check out this skit lampooning the debate. Joe Biden comes in for his shots, too.