Palinpalooza: GLM analysis for Huffington Post

Sarah Palin’s Emails Written At 8th Grade Level — Better Than Some CEOs

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The huge cache of Sarah Palin’s emails released Friday offered not only a chance to see what she was writing about during her uncompleted term as Alaska’s governor, but also an opportunity to see how well she writes.

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an eighth-grade level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said.

“I’m a centrist Democrat, and would have loved to support my hunch that Ms. Palin is illiterate,” said2tor Chief Executive Officer John Katzman.

“However, the emails say something else. Ms. Palin writes emails on her Blackberry at a grade level of 8.5.

“If she were a student and showing me her work, I’d say ‘It’s fine, clear writing,’” he said, admitting that emails he wrote scored lower than Palin’s on the widely used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.

“She came in as a solid communicator,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor. The emails registered as an 8.2 on his version of the test. “That’s typical for a corporate executive.”

An example of Palin’s strongest writing came on Jul. 17, 2007 in an email to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell about the controversial Gravina Island Bridge, infamously called the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“We cant afford it, the Feds won’t pay for it, the general populace isn’t placing it as a high priority … can you diplomatically express that?! Of course we want infrastructure — and this is NOT a “bridge to nowhere” (that is so offensive), but as it stands today with the highest-cost bridge design selected by the Ketchikan community, we need to find a lower-cost alternative [if] a bridge will be built.”

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.” [Read More.]




“Refudiating” Word Games: What would Edwin Newman Think?

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What would have the late newsman and grammar guru Edwin Newman thought about airwaves and cyberspace filled with “refudiate” and “guido?”

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By JERE HESTERSep 16, 2010
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It’s hard to refudiate that we lost one of our great TV journalists and guardians of the language with the recent death of NBC’s Edwin Newman.

In fact, it’s impossible to refudiate – because “refudiate” isn’t a word.

We imagine that Newman, who displayed a strong sense of humor in his TV commentaries, writings and appearances on David Letterman’s old morning show and “Saturday Night Live,” might have gotten a rueful chuckle out of Sarah Palin’s tweeted mash-up of “refute” and “repudiate.”

Newman, whose death at age 91 was reported Wednesday, famously asked in “Strictly Speaking,” his 1974 bestseller on the state of language, “Will America be the death of English?”

GLM Comment:  In fact the exact opposite has occurred — American English has spurred the English to a new level, from Old English, to Middle English, to Modern English to what might be deemed, in contemporary fashion, English 2.0.

Recent evidence doesn’t bode well for the mother tongue. The folks at Merriam-Webster this month named “refudiate” the Word of the Summer – and reported that the non-word spurred many searches on its online dictionary.

Meanwhile, The Global Language Monitor last week released its annual list of the popular “telewords” (which isn’t really a word itself). Placing No. 3 on the group’s “Top Words from Television” list for the 2009-2010 TV season was “guido.”

That anti-Italian slur became a catchword, thanks to the cast of “Jersey Shore” – a place, at least on MTV, where young people foolishly acting out stereotypes are celebrated and rewarded. (In other signs of the times, The Monitor’s top two entries were “BP Spillcam” and “dysfunctional.”) [Read More.]



New York Magazine: Textbook Obama

Flash from the Past ( September 21, 2009) by Paul Bonanos

Which predecessor does his rhetoric most nearly echo? The data don’t lie: It’s Ronald Reagan.


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On Tuesday, President Obama spoke to schoolchildren; on Wednesday, to Congress. The easy punch line (same grade level, guys?) raises a real question: How does this president, whose comments on health care in particular had been criticized for lacking a clear take-home message, pitch his language? Does he strategically streamline his explanations for different audiences? To find out, we called upon science, in the form of Paul J. J. Payack, “president and chief word analyst” at an Austin, Texas, trend-watching outfit called the Global Language Monitor.

What Payack found when Obama’s speeches bubbled through his software was that the president didn’t treat Congress like a bunch of kids. His health-care speech clocks in at 9.0, indicating a ninth-grade reading level; the classroom speech, at 6.6. Those two figures more or less bookend the range for contemporary oration. Both Presidents Bush tended to fall around grade 7, as did Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” comes in at 8.8.

There’s plenty of room for sophisticated ideas at that level. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is sixth-grade material. So is The Hobbit. The Gettysburg Address rates a 9.1. That’s low for the nineteenth century, when florid oratory was in vogue—the Lincoln-Douglas debates took place at an eleventh-grade level, rarely heard today. “You can imagine how they’d talk—three, four hours long,” Payack says. “It really changed with the advent of radio.”

Nor is ninth-grade language too tough for a mainstream audience. Payack says that Ronald Reagan, the master of folksy explanation, is Obama’s closest match among recent presidents, with speeches that usually come in around 9 or 10. “The word was that he spoke in sound bites, but they’re very well-crafted sound bites.” The two presidents may differ in affect, content, and approach—Obama sometimes seems to develop his ideas through the very process of turning them into oratory, whereas Reagan more or less only had one idea—but not in linguistic complexity. Indeed, Obama has often expressed admiration for the Gipper’s ability to frame issues.

Payack explains that his proprietary algorithm is a variant of the standard Flesch Reading Ease Test, which is performed on many textbooks and educational materials: “It analyzes words per sentence, syllables per word, things of that nature. The theory is that the more complex the structure, the more syllables per word, the more difficult it is to understand.” Polysyllabicism and subclauses add complexity, and skew the score toward older readers. “To reach the greatest number of people, to communicate most crisply, to make sure your idea moves from your mind to someone else’s, you should speak in short sentences.” (Representative Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” achieves a prekindergarten rating.) For comparison, a Maureen Dowd column from last week was a 10.8, a Paul Krugman piece was a 12.5, and the story you’re reading now has a Flesch score of ninth grade.

Read More

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