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More on Sarah Palin's Syntax, and Its Critics:

Mark Liberman at Language Log -- not a supporter of Palin's politics, I think -- has a characteristically thoughtful, evenhanded, and persuasive post on the subject.

Anderson (mail):
Just the occasion I needed for this quote that I noticed earlier today. Obama on "60 Minutes":

We've gotta come up with solutions that are true to our times and true to this moment. And that's gonna be our job. I think the basic principle that government has a role to play in kick starting an economy that has ground to a halt is sound.

I think our basic principle that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates innovation and risk taking, I think that's a principle that we've gotta hold to as well. But what I don't wanna do is get bottled up in a lot of ideology and is this conservative or liberal. My interest is finding something that works.

And whether it's coming from FDR or it's coming from Ronald Reagan, if the idea is right for the times then we're gonna apply it. And things that don't work we're gonna get rid of.


Obviously, "60 Minutes" is a hotbed of anti-liberalism, if not racism, since they're clearly conveying a negative judgment about Obama.

[EV notes: The commenter is quoting what seems to be a Time correspondent's own transcription of the 60 Minutes interview. Here's what the transcript on Nexis looks like:

We've got to come up with solutions that are true to our times and true to this moment. And that's going to be our job. I think the basic principle that government has a role to play in kickstarting an economy that has ground to a halt is sound. I think our basic principle, that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates an innovation and risk taking, I think that's a principle that we've got to hold to as well.

But what I don't want to do is get bottled up in a lot of ideology and, you know, is this conservative or liberal? My interest is finding something that works. And whether it's coming from FDR or it's coming from Ronald Reagan, if the idea is right for the times then we're going to apply it. And things that don't work we're going to get rid of them.


End of EV note.]
11.17.2008 5:05pm
Hoosier:
He's right about extemporaneous speech. I "talk" my class lectures instead of reading them. This morning, I actually was asking my self how the day's lecture would look on paper. We're dealing with the Vietnam War right now. It's a topic I have taught at many different levels, so I have a good background knowledge. When students asked questions, I kept having those "false starts" Liberman mentions, since I wasn't sure how much detail was too much, too confusing for a Cold War survey class.

Perhaps Palin is a dope. I don't know. But if she is a dope because of her extempo talking, then I suspect I'm a dope as well. Which makes me sad. And I don't like things that make me sad.

So I'm going to say that she isn't a dope.

As a useful exercise on transcription: Watch The News Hour carefully some night. Then, a couple days later, check the transcript of the show when it is posted. The unscripted part of the show often makes guests look far less compelling than they seemed to me (and you, I bet) when you watched them on the tube.

Anderson

I don't think your example proves much of anything, especially with regard to the Liberman article, and hence EV's post. See especially:

[William Ockham correctly points out, in the comments below, that linguistic snobbery directed at Sarah Palin has come from every point on the political spectrum. But after several centuries in which the right played the role of "elitists vs. ordinary people", a new political story-line is assigning this role to the left, who therefore have more to lose by method-acting the part with such verve and gusto in this particular drama. ]


(BTW: "Several centuries"? Was John Jay aware of this charade?)
11.17.2008 5:09pm
John (mail):
It has amazed me how unwilling Palin's critics are to recognize the difference between spoken and written English. The pauses and accented phrasing that serve for punctuation in spoken words don't show up in transcripts. Those transcripts in turn lend themselves to mocking by the usual array of former high school literary magazine types making fun of football players.
11.17.2008 5:13pm
Anderson (mail):
It has amazed me how unwilling Palin's critics are to recognize the difference between spoken and written English.

Duncan "Atrios" Black made the fair point that the problem isn't so much that Palin can't talk -- it's that she hasn't learned how to say nothing in the received Washington cadences.

I don't think your example proves much of anything

Right. When someone transcribes Palin as saying "gonna," that's a slur on Palin. When someone transcribes Obama as saying "gonna," that's completely different.

"Several centuries"?

Yeah, who was the Left several centuries ago? Simon de Montfort?
11.17.2008 5:22pm
GMUSOL05:
I don't care a whit that Palin said "gonna" or "gotta," nor that someone transcribed her as using those terms. Also, as someone who actually watched Palin's various interviews and colloquies, I submit that rather than losing something in the transcription, Palin's nonsensical, extemporaneous responses actually gain comprehensibility after having been written down. It was incredibly hard to parse and diagram those convoluted tirades "live," without having the written word to rely upon and scrutinize. And that's to say nothing of the abject senselessness of the "substance" of what she said in those instances.
11.17.2008 5:28pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Would it be OK to transcribe blacks saying "aks" rather than "ask?"
11.17.2008 5:31pm
wfjag:
Calvin Coolidge was fluent in classical Greek and Latin, and could read Dante's Inferno in Medieval Italian. It was said "He can remain silent in five languages." Obviously, today that's what we need in a national leader to inspire us.
11.17.2008 5:35pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
Elliot123: only if you also transcribe all the white speakers who pronounce it the same way. I mean, I know you didn't mean anything racist there...

GMUSOL05: you've got a point about the content-freedom. Commenter Teresa G at the original post made the point that her responses are eerily similar to those produced by a middling AI chatbot.
11.17.2008 5:44pm
PLR:
Having grown up on the south shore of Boston, I am not at all bothered by Palin's regional peculiarities of syntax. The only thing about her speech I find remarkable is that her response often has nothing to do with the question that was asked, and I can't attribute the yawning disparity to normal political waffling.
11.17.2008 5:54pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Elliot123: only if you also transcribe all the white speakers who pronounce it the same way. I mean, I know you didn't mean anything racist there..."

OK. Glad you realize that. Suppose we do transcribe "aks" regardless of who uses it, but its frequency of use is overwhelmingly skewed towards blacks. OK?
11.17.2008 5:57pm
TMac (mail):
I wonder why 'preview' is provided for this blog. Critics of Palin's syntax obviously don't need it.
11.17.2008 6:14pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
"Aks" is a perfectly cromulent word.


He axede what hi so3te
Other to londe bro3te.
-"King Horn"
Anonymous, c. 1250 AD
11.17.2008 6:23pm
Redman:
Anyone who has ever had their deposition taken knows what its like to read what we actually said, rather than what we thought we said. Sentences which, to the speaker, seem coherent, often are not when reduced to writing.
11.17.2008 6:27pm
Allan (mail):
Verbage.
11.17.2008 6:46pm
Smokey:
If Gov. Palin were as clueless as her attackers portray her, they would disregard her completely, because she wouldn't be any kind of a political threat to them.

Instead, we can smell their fear and loathing -- proof positive that liberals are frightened to death of Sarah Palin [that's OK, they're frightened of the military, too, and guns, and free speech]. They just can't shut up about her, and continually engage in ambush politics over anything and everything she says.

Just so everyone understands how lame the baseless attacks on Sarah Palin are, listen to this.

If you can listen to the whole thing, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. [While you're at it, feel free to insert punctuation.]
11.17.2008 6:50pm
Anderson (mail):
The only thing about her speech I find remarkable is that her response often has nothing to do with the question that was asked, and I can't attribute the yawning disparity to normal political waffling.

That's what Duncan Black was getting at -- she hasn't learned to fill the gap sufficiently to give the false impression of having answered the question.
11.17.2008 6:58pm
Hoosier:
wfjag:
Calvin Coolidge was fluent in classical Greek and Latin, and could read Dante's Inferno in Medieval Italian. It was said "He can remain silent in five languages." Obviously, today that's what we need in a national leader to inspire us.

No. It's 'global world' now, wfjag. Global. World.

Global world.

We need a president who can be silent in many more languages than that.
11.17.2008 7:03pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"'Aks' is a perfectly cromulent word."

Cromulent? What a great word.
11.17.2008 7:11pm
road warrior99 (mail):
Does any of this really matter? I just want to see the change the liberal illuminati promised us in Obama. I don't care about his syntax and on car even less about Palin's I think all these issues with Pallin are going to be a fleeting issues soon enough. She isn't going to have a political future anyway. I think the media had kinda squashed that. We'll see.
11.17.2008 7:24pm
Barry P. (mail):
True, her packaging of words is awful, but as many have said, amybe she shouldn't be judged on that.

But she should be judged on the content of her sentences, and they too frequently come up either empty or wrong. Like claimng that Alaska provides 20% of the nation's energy, or claiming that it is illegal to export oil. And let's not get started with the "You can see (a basically unpopulated island in) Russia from (a basicallly unpopulated island in) Alaska, so I understand international affairs" farce.

She is ambitious, attractive and content-free, and both theo- and neo-cons think they can exploit that troika of attributes and use her as a vessel to carry their message. She believes in nothing except "abortions are bad" and the exercise of personal power to reward her cronies and punish her enemies.
11.17.2008 8:22pm
Jiffy:

If Gov. Palin were as clueless as her attackers portray her, they would disregard her completely, because she wouldn't be any kind of a political threat to them.

Instead, we can smell their fear and loathing -- proof positive that liberals are frightened to death of Sarah Palin

Sorry, Smokey, but I think most liberals can't stop paying attention to Palin in the same way it's hard to look away from a car wreck on the highway. No liberal I've talked to is "frightened to death of Sarah Palin" in the sense of being worried about her as a political opponent. ("Frightened to death" at the prospect that she might, riding on McCain's coattails, have become VP was another matter.) My guess is that if liberals got to vote on the Republicans' 2012 presidential candidate it would be Palin in a landslide.
11.17.2008 8:29pm
Anderson (mail):
Instead, we can smell their fear and loathing -- proof positive that liberals are frightened to death of Sarah Palin

"Being afraid of someone" and "being afraid for one's country if someone were president" are two entirely different things.

I would fear President Smokey, but that doesn't mean I fear Smokey the Commenter.
11.17.2008 9:20pm
MarkField (mail):
Ok, Anderson, but what about Smokey the Bear?
11.17.2008 9:30pm
Nunzio:
Speaking of substance free, the only substantive proposals I can remember from the recent Presidential campaign were McCain's proposal to double the amount of the dependent exemption and Obama's proposal to cut taxes for 95% of Americans with jobs.

Everything else was white noise on substance, unless of course people consider "cracking down on Wall Street Greed" or "making sure every child has a first-class education" to be a substantive proposal. Honestly, I think about half the electorate considers these bromides to be substantive proposals.

Anyway, Palin needs to get better at saying nothing well if she wants a career in national politics. This skill seems to consist of saying things in a direct but kindly tone and saying no more than 40 words but no fewer than 32 words in an answer to any given question.

As this seems to be a pretty easy skill to acquire, I wouldn't count Palin out in the future. Also, if she can modify her accent a bit, as Bill Clinton did, she'll be good to go.
11.17.2008 9:44pm
Anderson (mail):
Ok, Anderson, but what about Smokey the Bear?

I've never seen him and Smokey the Commenter in the same room, let's just leave it at that.

Also, if she can modify her accent a bit, as Bill Clinton did, she'll be good to go.

And if not, the Coen brothers are always looking for new talent.
11.17.2008 10:38pm
David Warner:
Jiffy,

"My guess is that if liberals got to vote on the Republicans' 2012 presidential candidate it would be Palin in a landslide"

And this sucks all around for the country. Grow up already.
11.17.2008 10:54pm
Smokey:
Allan:

"Verbiage."
11.17.2008 11:09pm
turdsimile (mail):

Would it be OK to transcribe blacks saying "aks" rather than "ask?"


"Aks" is a perfectly acceptable pronunciation of the word.

Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and other masters of the English language all used it.

People don't say it that way because they are black, or because they are trying to hark back to a time when "aks" was the norm; people say it that way because they learn it that way. That's how people learn how to talk. There's nothing wrong with Palin's accent - it just sounds like a strong Indland North (Midwestern) accent. What's awkward is her word order and syntax. She has a roundabout way of talking that can be confusing.
11.18.2008 1:13am
John Skookum (mail):
Instead, we can smell their fear and loathing -- proof positive that liberals are frightened to death of Sarah Palin [that's OK, they're frightened of the military, too, and guns, and free speech]. They just can't shut up about her, and continually engage in ambush politics over anything and everything she says.


Two weeks after the election, every time I go to places where lots of lefties hang out-- both mainstreamish places like the New York Times or Salon or Boston.com, or the wacko netroots sites-- I can count on seeing a Palin article in the top ten for "most e-mailed" or "most commented".

And reading through the comments, there is invariably a "Two Minutes' Hate" extravaganza, page after page after page, in which said liberals vie to see who can denounce Gov. Palin in the most insulting terms.

The more genteel sites that claim to moderate their comments are nonetheless full of rank sexism that would never be allowed if applied to a Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. The less-policed boards use the most grossly offensive, dehumanizing language I have ever seen addressed to a politician in my entire life. Not Nixon, nor Reagan, nor either of the Clintons, nor even George Bush got such vicious denunciation.

I think what is happening is that these are people who live their lives in a smog of paranoid political correctness. Nothing else in their daily interactions with others is as important as avoiding giving offense to someone who might be able to claim protected minority status. Slagging George Bush meets with their peers' approval, of course, but it's getting old. And it still doesn't scratch that old caveman itch to give vent to the most coarse and primitive kind of tribalist hatred for the Other. For all his Texan folksiness, everyone knows Bush is a Northeastern moderate at heart, and not really so different from those who condemn him.

But now along comes Sarah Palin, a real daughter of the pioneer West. She is totally unlike the people in the big cities of the coasts. For the first time in their lives, the urban rabbit-people can freely scream CUNT, BITCH, WHORE, with pats on the back from every other bien-pensant lefty they know. In what other context would they ever feel comfortable enough to sneeringly order an accomplished career woman to return to her kitchen and children and menial submission to a white-trash husband? What a catharsis it must be for that kind of person.

At its root, I agree it is a manifestation of fear. If she was really the useless moron they portray, she would have been forgotten three days after the election. Can you imagine anyone mentioning Biden today if his ticket had lost? But they are obsessed with her.

They well remember that week or so after her speech when Obama fell precipitously behind in the polls. They fear her, and they hate what they fear. They are like savages around a campfire, endlessly repeating legends of the mighty warrior they once fought but did not vanquish, as they strut and prance and beat their chests while cursing him and all his tribe.

Sarah is an unpolished autodidact, a politician-savant plucked from unprepared obscurity, who came close to beating the chosen candidate of the entire Establishment. Fighting the headwinds of an unpopular war, an unpopular President of her own party, an economic catastrophe that raised the specter of another Depression, and an underfunded stumblebum at the top of her ticket, she nonetheless drew vast crowds at every stop and almost pulled off the victory. If she had only convinced 6% of the women who voted against her to change their minds, they would have won.

You lefties are correct to fear her. She will be hitting the books and traveling and talking to the press for the next four years. She'll be raising mountains of cash for her PAC. She'll be working with public-speaking coaches for the first time in her life. She'll be schmoozing the housewives of America on daytime TV. And she'll be governing Alaska well, getting stuff done instead of just talking about it. When she runs again, everyone will notice the difference. She'll be a formidable candidate. You betcha!
11.18.2008 4:55am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
John Skookum

Good layout of the recent electoral events.

But you mentioned mentoning Biden if their ticket had lost.
Has anybody mentioned Biden recently?
Or, for that matter, seen him?
11.18.2008 7:48am
Angus:
John Skookum,

Brilliant satire! Bravo!
11.18.2008 9:31am
wfjag:

No. It's 'global world' now, wfjag. Global. World.

Ack! I've been outted by Hoosier as an atavistic backslider! What was it that gave me away? The Flag Lapel Pin? Didn't you believe it was a Collector's Item, purchased internationally on e-bay? Or, was it my Jerry Garcia tie?
11.18.2008 11:18am
Elliot123 (mail):
"Aks" is a perfectly acceptable pronunciation of the word."

OK. Is it perfectly acceptable to transcribe it as such if the frequency of usage is highly skewed towards blacks?
11.18.2008 11:20am
Jiffy:

And this sucks all around for the country. Grow up already.

David Warner: Maybe I'm not grown up enough to understand your point. If it is that it "sucks for the country" that someone like Sarah Palin can plausibly be a major party's presidential nominee, I'll agree with you.
11.18.2008 12:11pm
Smokey:
Imagine the crazed, red-faced screaming, arm-waving and hyperventilating that would emanate from liberal hypocrites if Palin, rather than Biden, had publicly stated that "FDR" explained the start of the Depression to Americans on television.

But Joe the Dumber gets an absolutely free pass for ignorantly confusing FDR with Hoover, and for telling us that TV was in commercial use in 1932. And he gets a pass for more than twenty years of theft and lying. Because plagiarism is stealing someone else's intellectual property, and the lying is when Biden passed it off as his own. Some hero you've got there.

See, Angus, it's not satire. You only wish. Far from satire, John S tells it exactly like it is -- and you can't take the truth. Today's liberals are the most hypocritical, projectionist bunch of cowardly clowns in U.S. history. Venomous hatred for a woman is A-OK, as long as she's not a liberal.

Your comment is a perfect example showing why liberals are hypocrites: you don't walk the walk -- you only talk the talk.
11.18.2008 1:52pm
Allan (mail):
Smokey:
You need to get out more.
11.18.2008 2:00pm
pauldom:

Would it be OK to transcribe blacks saying "aks" rather than "ask?"

The term for that practice is "eye dialect." Generally, eye dialect is discouraged because it can become very tough to read. Also, if you are using it solely to disparage the speaker, readers can view it as a form of ad hominem attack.

So, is it OK? Depends on why you're doing it and what your readers expect of you.
11.18.2008 2:09pm
josh:
I find it a little strange to analyze a person's grammar, syntax, whathaveyou, by using a transcript of an interview. Why not watch or listen to the interview? Then the author of the piece linked to here wouldn't have had to worry about where the transcriber put punctuation or erroneously transcribed portions of the interview.

In any event, here's one dirty f'n hippy maoist lefty commie praying that Sarah Palin remains in the news for the next 4 years! Palin 2012!
11.18.2008 2:44pm
David Warner:
Jiffy,

"David Warner: Maybe I'm not grown up enough to understand your point. If it is that it "sucks for the country" that someone like Sarah Palin can plausibly be a major party's presidential nominee, I'll agree with you."

Then WTF are you advocating voting for just that for? Limbaugh envy? Can you do no better than that? Can not our country? We've got bigger fish to fry these days than your petty political opponents.

It's like the UAW obsessing on their own management when it's Hyundai and Toyota cleaning their clock.
11.18.2008 3:58pm