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Picture of bethree5
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Here is a kind of fun blog post plus comments. The subject is a CNN report (linked in the blog) that Palin spoke at a "higher grade level" then Biden in the VP debate, according to a "language monitoring service" (computer program). Many of the comments go beyond political opinion to elucidate the practice of speaking on certain 'grade levels', as well as provide some grammatical analysis of excerpts.
 
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Joe Biden: "The middle class under John McCain’s tax proposal, 100 million families, middle-class families, households to be precise, they got not a single change; they got not a single break in taxes."

A good example of left dislocation and apposition in spoken English. Also interesting bit of an archaism "they got not a single break" rather than "they did not get a single break".

Paul JJ Payack, the president of the firm doing the analysis: "In a typical Joe Biden thing, this sentence would serve as a launching point to even more complex and convoluted statements."

Doesn't seem convoluted to me, but an easily parsed and understandable sentence—after all his grade-level score was the 8th grade. (I'm sure others will disagree and thank you, bethree5 for the interesting link.)

[Addendum: The Modern Language Monitor (link) was founded by Dr Robert Beard, professor emeritus of linguistics at Bucknell University, aka Dr Language, aka Dr Goodword. Over at Language Log, he's been the subject of some entries: "The Politics of Pronunciation" (link), "The Theology of Phonology" (link), "They Can Kiss Her Grits" (link), "You Say Nevada, I Say Nevahda" (link), "'Superdelegates': a not-so-novel concoction" (link), and "Superdelegates, round two" (link). It's nice [sic] to see that even linguists can be peevologists. I also like to see Hartman’s Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation in action with Beard's agregious for egregious in the first post.]

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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<Proofreader>
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Language Log had some interesting posts on their relative use of common words. Sorry I can't link -- AOL problems.

But before there are any comments on their speaking styles, perhaps it would be useful to learn if they had prepared notes on the lectern. It seemed to me they both eyed something there during their answers. In that case the answers could have been packaged for them. Although I doubt politicians would sink to that depth.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Paul JJ Payack, the president of the firm doing the analysis: "In a typical Joe Biden thing, this sentence would serve as a launching point to even more complex and convoluted statements."

Doesn't seem convoluted to me, but an easily parsed and understandable sentence—after all his grade-level score was the 8th grade.
To me, it seemed a lukewarm accusation of convolution. He did say it would serve as a launching point to even more complex and convoluted statements, but he didn't say that it did serve as that launching point. So it could have been even more convoluted than it is. Yet, I agree with you, z, that it's not convoluted at all.

Yes, I agree with z...nice link, Bethree. I am sure we've all been reading a lot of these political links. In fact, I answered two political polls today. Can't wait for it all to be over!

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I stopped reading the article here:
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The study also shows that both candidates spoke around the same number of words. Palin spoke 5,235 words - of which the word “maverick” was roughly 5,000 of those.

While Biden uttered some 5,492 words, which is impressive considering that in prior debates that’s the length of one sentence.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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At least he's an equal opportunity language lampooner.
 
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Unfortunately, the firm doing the analysis is The Global Language Monitor. This is the organization that thinks it can count all the words in English and is duping people into believing that English will soon have 1 million words.
 
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This is the organization that thinks it can count all the words in English and is duping people into believing that English will soon have 1 million words.

Don't just read the headline and the article; read the correction at the end of it.


Richard English
 
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A couple of things occur to me.

First, the Flesch-Kincaid readability score is, you will note, about reading. The validity of applying this to a spoken text is extremely dubious, to say the least.

More important is that even for reading a higher score is not necessarilly a better result. When a politician makes a speech or writes a report clarity is much more important than clever words. A clear report, with no complex sentences, no run on sentences, no difficult and awkward constructions will have a lower Flesch-Kincaid than a report with all of those things as it is calculated using sentence and word length.
If one candidate speaks at a lower "level" all that means is that they are getting the message across more effectively to more people.
 
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Don't just read the headline and the article; read the correction at the end of it.

The article was corrected on May 16. Their claim is just as bogus now as it was in May.


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The article was corrected on May 16. Their claim is just as bogus now as it was in May.

Sadly I can't check their article since it seems to have been removed. But the correction does suggest that they never made a claim for a precise number of words. Furthermore, the correction also suggests that they never sent a press release either, so it is probably unfair to suggest that they are trying to dupe people.

Of course, as I have already written previously, it is impossible to arrive at a definition of a word that will satisfy everyone - which that there are many definitiobs extant. Thus any claim for the number of words in English between around half a million and many millions will probably be reasonably close, according to someone's definition.


Richard English
 
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Furthermore, the correction also suggests that they never sent a press release either, so it is probably unfair to suggest that they are trying to dupe people.


Why else make the ridiculous claim to The New York Times that "as of Jan. 26 at 10:59 a.m. Eastern time, the number of words in the English language was 986,120". The Times of London believed them when they said that the millionth word would be formed the summer of 2006. But the wordification progress has slowed right down - in 2003 it was about 800 000, in 2006 it was 980 000, but it still isn't at 1 million.

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can't check their article since it seems to have been removed

What article can't you find? I'm referring to the Slate.com article, which is still there.


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Why else make the ridiculous claim to The New York Times that "as of Jan. 26 at 10:59 a.m. Eastern time

I have no idea. I am simply repeating the statement in the correction that said they hadn't sent any press release. Maybe they're lying - I have no way of telling.


Richard English
 
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What article can't you find? I'm referring to the Slate.com article, which is still there.
I am referring to the article in the Global Language Monitor, which is supposed to be the source of this claim and the article about which Slate was being so scathing.


Richard English
 
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I discussed on a blog entry that I made earlier this evening my thoughts on why the Flesch-Kincaid analysis isn't valid for spoken texts and why the results of it show nothing anyway. I also mentioned in passing the Million Word nonsense. Within an hour I had received a comment from Paul Payack of the Global Language Monitor disputing my assessment. You might find it amusing.

The post is here

Click on "comments" for the reply.

What I'd really like to know is how an obscure little blog like mine with a readership you can count on your fingers attracted such an instant response. Any ideas?
 
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He may have found it via Google Alerts.
 
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Yes, I definitely think it was from Google Alerts. That happened to me when I wrote about my aerobics instructor's prejudiced comments about why Bernie Mac died. I had used the word "lung transplant" in my Blog post, and suddenly I got new people because they were being alerted for "lung transplant."

Bob, I completely agree with you about the grade levels of spoken texts not being reliable. To be honest, I have never had much faith in them as measures of readability either.
 
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Unless a definition can be agreed on what a word is, then there can be no agreement about the number of words in any language.

In the absence of any such definition I would suggest that it is unfair to suggest that attempts to determine the number of words in a language are fraudulent.


Richard English
 
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Richard: I think you and I would disagree on the definition of the word "fraudulent".
 
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Richard: I think you and I would disagree on the definition of the word "fraudulent".

Well, I would go along with Oxford's definition "...deceitful or dishonest...". And I don't think that the Global Language Monitor has been either. At the very most their conclusions could have been said to be incomplete and their comments maybe misleading.


Richard English
 
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Sometimes it can be dangerous to confuse malice with ignorance or incompetence.
 
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Richard: I missed one of the negatives in your original statement.
 
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I think you guys are right. It was unfair of me to suggest that they were trying to dupe people.
 
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Unless a definition can be agreed on what a word is, then there can be no agreement about the number of words in any language.

In the absence of any such definition I would suggest that it is unfair to suggest that attempts to determine the number of words in a language are fraudulent.
Funny, by your first comment, I'd never have concluded the second. In fact, I'd have concluded the opposite; that is, since there is no agreement on the definition of a word, there is absolutely no way one could determine the number of words. Therefore, I'd conclude, attempts to do that are fraudulent or to use goofy's term, an attempt to dupe people.

Fraudulent is a legal word. I always think it's dangerous to use technical words as everyday words. There is a lot about it in Black's Law Dictionary (2 pages), but the first definition is: "An intentional perversion of truth for the purpose of inducing another in reliance upon it to part with some valuable thing belonging to him or to surrender a legal right." In this case, Payack, knowing there isn't an agreed upon definition of a "word," is intentionally perverting the truth, though I am not sure about inducing others to part with something valuable (perhaps their time in reading the articles about it?). So it might not be fraudulent, but it surely is dishonest. Richard has clarified that for me.

[Edited to correct "pervading" to "perverting."]

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So it might not be fraudulent, but it surely is dishonest. Richard has clarified that for me.

Only fraudulent or dishonest if they are trying to gain advantage by deceipt.

If an organisation states that, by its own calculations, there are a million words in the English language that is a statement of belief, not proven fact. It would be fraudulent if, in some way, the organisation tried to gain advantage from that statement, knowing it to be unproven.

To take a different example, there are religious gurus who claim that the end of the world is nigh - and they have every right to the belief, as they have every right to proclaim that belief and try to persuade others to adopt it. But if they were to suggest that the end of the world is nigh, and that, to ensure a place in heaven, everyone should pay them a sum of money, then that would be fraud - unless they could prove firstly that the end of the world truly was nigh, and that secondly they had access to multiple copies of the keys of heaven.


Richard English
 
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Kalleh:

1) I think one reason why I initially misread RE's second paragraph was because, like you, I was expecting the opposite.

2) Surely you meant "perverting", not "pervading".

3) Yes, fraudulent is a legal word, but it is also a common word used with a non-technical meaning. Don't most of us know someone we refer to in private as "that old fraud"?

Is Paypack being dishonest? Or at least, any more dishonest than most people who advertise and promote their products? They, too, are attempting to dupe people, in many cases.

There is a fine line between so-called legitimate advertising and false advertising, and between a hard sell and deceptive sales practices.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Well, Val, I agree with you partly, but partly not. First, I had meant "perverting" and not "pervading," and I edited that. Secondly, I did say it wasn't fraud because there really was no gain from what Paypack is doing. However, after thinking about it, I also can agree that there isn't an intention to deceive, either. It isn't a scholarly attempt, but then much on the Internet isn't scholarly. I'd expect more expert opinion and use of primary sources before I'd consider it a scholarly investigation. Yet, if Paypack were to use the experts or primary sources, he probably wouldn't be doing what he's doing. But is he dishonest or fraudulent? Probably not.

I will disagree with you, though, that "fraudulent" is a perfectly acceptable non-technical word. I think "fraudulent" is one of those technical words that is misunderstood if it's not used in the technical sense. I, for example, would never understand it to merely mean "dishonest," as Richard's dictionary indicated. It means more than that to me, and to many people; therefore, it's one of those technical words that I wouldn't throw around like we are here.
 
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I, for example, would never understand it to merely mean "dishonest," as Richard's dictionary indicated.

I think the point is that something that is fraudulent must be dishonest - but not all dishonesty is fraud.


Richard English
 
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