Archive for Language and politics

"Believe me"

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The mind is its own place

The Republican presidential campaign is getting apocalyptic. The Bloomberg News headline on a story by Ben Brody — "Boehner Uncorks on ‘Lucifer’ Cruz, Says He Wouldn’t Back Him in Fall" — led reader A.R. to wonder whether that "fall" is merely the November election, or rather the fall of

Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th' Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition

as John Milton put it.

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Ted Cruz's "basketball ring" — or was it "rim"?

Ted Cruz has gotten a lot of very creative grief for apparently messing up the re-enactment of a scene from the movie Hoosiers by referring to the height of a "basketball ring":

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"I think __"

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Slowed speech

This is pretty funny. Rob Beschizza, "Trump slowed 50%", BoingBoing 4/19/2016:

Everyone sounds drunk or stoned when slowed down 50%, but doing so to Trump reveals that his bizarre, digressive speech patterns are uncannily like a drunk sped up 200%.

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Papi Jiang: PRC internet sensation

Tom Mazanec wrote in to call Papi醬 (jiàng means "thick sauce; jam-like or paste-like food") to my attention.  Tom explains:

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Obama and the end of the queue

Over the past few days the British media (newspapers and BBC news programs) have been talking about a crucially linguistic argument that President Obama is being manipulated, and literally told what to say, by the UK prime minister's office. (Links seem superfluous: the Google News UK edition will give you thousands of references.) The evidence comes from a single choice of lexical item.

During the two working days Obama spent in Britain, the main news-generating event was a news conference in which he directly addressed the issue of whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. A key argument for those who believe in leaving the EU (the proponents of Brexit) has been that new trade agreements could readily be set up once the country was free from the shackles of EU membership. Specifically, a trade agreement could be readily set up with the USA. Not so fast, said Obama: the USA will continue its negotiating efforts aimed at setting up a trade agreement with the whole EU, and if the UK left that grouping (the largest single market in the world) it would "be in the back of the queue" if it applied to get a special UK/US trade agreement established.

The Brexit crew jumped on the use of the word queue. Americans talk about waiting in line, not waiting in a queue or queueing up. "The back of the queue" is characteristic British English, and no American would say any such thing, they insisted. Obama's remarks must have been prepared for him by British pro-EU politicians. Are the Brexiteers right?

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Here's an unexpected factoid from the transcripts of the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign: Despite his "Make America Great Again" slogan, Donald Trump uses the words America and American almost 13 times less often than Bernie Sanders does.

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Debate words

As I mentioned a few days ago ("More political text analytics", 4/15/2016), I've now got more-or-less cleaned-up text from the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign.

[Update — with some help from Chris Culy, I've done additional clean-up on the debate texts, and therefore have revised the numbers in this post slightly, as of 4/23/2016. None of the numbers have changed a lot, and none of the qualitative implications have changed at all.]

If we focus on the contributions to those 21 debates of  the five remaining U.S. presidential candidates, we get 199,188 words in total, divided up like this:

Clinton 56,989
Sanders 50,649
Trump 41,039
Cruz 32,654
Kasich 28,772

This morning I'll add a few small examples of the kind of information that can be derived from a dataset of this type.

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More political text analytics

I spent a few minutes this morning getting transcripts for all 12 Republican and all 9 Democratic debates, and over the next few days I'll do some additional Breakfast Experiments™ on the results. One trivial thing is a complete type-token plot, from texts constructed by concatenating all the transcript pieces attributed to each remaining candidate across all the debates:

Unsurprisingly, the trends we saw earlier have continued: Cruz has the highest rate of vocabulary display, and Trump the lowest.

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Candidate for President

ICYMI, the median presidential candidate TV ad:

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"We could all unite against the hatred for Obama"

Recently on the Fox News program The Five, one of the participants came out with an expression that illustrates the forces behind the kinds of errors that we've called misnegations — even though the errant phrase lacks any overt negation at all!

Bemoaning "this fractured strife among the Republican party", Greg Gutfeld  said

And I just remember the good old days, where we could all unite against the hatred for Obama.

Presumably he meant "unite behind the hatred for Obama" or "unite in hatred against Obama" or  something like that, but got the polarity reversed on the combination of against, hatred, and for.

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Now that there are effectively just two Republican and two Democratic presidential candidates left, I'm starting to get questions about comparing speaking styles across party boundaries. One simple approach is a type-token plot — this is a measure of the rate of vocabulary display, where the horizontal axis is the sequentially increasing number of words ("tokens"), and the vertical axis is the total number of distinct words ("types") at each step.

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