Sarah Palin's distal demonstratives

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I'm going to venture to disagree with my colleague and friend John McWhorter's diagnosis of "What does Palinspeak mean?" (TNR, 4/6/2010).

Of course, I don't disagree with John's observation that Sarah Palin's speech style is folksy and informal. As for his comment that "Palin […] has grown up squarely within a period of American history when the old-fashioned sense of a speech as a carefully planned recitation, and public pronouncements as performative oratory, has been quite obsolete", we could quibble over details — how much of the difference is in what public figures say, as opposed to what gets transmitted and reported? — but let's grant that John is right about this as well.

Where I think that John may go wrong is in his analysis of that and there.

Now, there's no doubt that Sarah Palin tends to use certain demonstratives more often than most other public figures, and also tends to use them in a different way. In "Affective demonstratives", 10/5/2008, I noted differences as great as 15-to-1 between her and Joe Biden in the 10/4/2008 vice-presidential debate. Her  demonstratives often seemed qualitatively as well as quantitatively different, in characteristic examples like "Americans are craving that straight talk". Straight talk was John McCain's slogan, but "craving that straight talk" was pure Palin.

Here's John McWhorter's diagnosis:

What truly distinguishes Palin’s speech is its utter subjectivity: that is, she speaks very much from the inside of her head, as someone watching the issues from a considerable distance. The there fetish, for instance — Palin frequently displaces statements with an appended “there,” as in “We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there…” But where? Why the distancing gesture? At another time, she referred to Condoleezza Rice trying to “forge that peace.” That peace? You mean that peace way over there — as opposed to the peace that you as Vice-President would have been responsible for forging? She’s far, far away from that peace.

All of us use there and that in this way in casual speech — it’s a way of placing topics as separate from us on a kind of abstract “desktop” that the conversation encompasses. “The people in accounting down there think they can just ….” But Palin, doing this even when speaking to the whole nation, is no further outside of her head than we are when talking about what’s going on at work over a beer. The issues, American people, you name it, are “there” — in other words, not in her head 24/7. She hasn’t given them much thought before; they are not her. They’re that, over there.

But there's another set of reasons for using that and there — not to signal distance from the referent, but to establish fellowship with the audience. The OED's entry for that as a "demonstrative adjective" sketches the cause and the effect:

1. a. The simple demonstrative used (as adjective in concord with a n.), to indicate a thing or person either as being actually pointed out or present, or as having just been mentioned and being thus mentally pointed out. […]

b. Indicating a person or thing assumed to be known, or to be known to be such as is stated. Often (esp. before a person's name: cf. L. iste) implying censure, dislike, or scorn; but sometimes commendation or admiration.

Similarly in the entry for there:

3.b. Pointing out a person or object with approval or commendation, or the contrary. Also in anticipatory commendation of the person addressed; cf. THAT dem. pron. B. I. 1b.

When Frank Sinatra sings about "that old black magic", or about "Chicago, that toddlin' town", it's not because the magic and the city are "that, over there", things that he "hasn't given … much thought [to] before". On the contrary, they're a familiar part of his mental life, and by treating them as "assumed to be known" to the audience, he draws us in as well. Similarly, Billie Holiday's reference to "them there eyes" is a form of endearment, not a distancing mechanism.

Of course, as the OED's entries indicate, familiarity can also signal contempt, as in the case of Ronald Reagan's famous line "There you go again".

John's reaction shows that he gets the implication of shared familiarity:

This reminds me of toddlers who speak from inside their own experience in a related way: they will come up to you and comment about something said by a neighbor you’ve never met, or recount to you the plot of an episode of a TV show they have no way of knowing you’ve ever heard of.

But using distal demonstratives as a rhetorical device to imply familiarity is an entirely grown-up trick. The phrasal lexicon of adult discourse is full of collocations like "that good old American ___".

In the vice-presidential debate of October 2008, Sarah Palin's first turn included this passage (emphasis added):

The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end.

I doubt that any other prominent American politician would have thrown in that semantically superfluous there. But its force is not to distance Palin from her resounding barometer, prudent though it might have been to do so. Rather, this verbal tic is an attempt to draw us all in to her metaphor. The barometer, you know, the one we're all familiar with, that good old barometer there.

She goes on:

Now, John McCain thankfully has been one representing reform. Two years ago, remember, it was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures. He sounded that warning bell.

We all know the warning bell she's talking about, right? That one over there, always in the back of our shared experience.

People in the Senate with him, his colleagues, didn't want to listen to him and wouldn't go towards that reform that was needed then. I think that the alarm has been heard, though, and there will be that greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain's bipartisan efforts that he was so instrumental in bringing folks together over this past week, even suspending his own campaign to make sure he was putting excessive politics aside and putting the country first.

So yes, Sarah Palin uses distal demonstratives more than other public figures do, and she often uses them in different ways. This is partly a folksy regionalism, and partly a personal quirk, but contrary to John's analysis, it's not because

The issues, American people, you name it, are “there” — in other words, not in her head 24/7. She hasn’t given them much thought before; they are not her. They’re that, over there.

On the contrary, it's because she's welcoming all of us into the familiar space of that good old American experience there.

[Hat tip to Cynthia McLemore.]


  1. EC said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 8:58 am

    Hysterically funny and very wise. Loved the tone. Wish I could share this with my students in rhetoric class, but that there could be a problem. I might be accused of that divisive-y partisan-y stuff.

  2. Mark P said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    To a certain extent surely it's a personal quirk, or a regionalism. I think it's also an attempt to sound folksy. I don't know how much calculation there is, but I think she understands that it is a way to distance herself from politics. She's outside all that political stuff over there, standing over here with the good, old real Americans. A lot of politicians try that approach with (maybe) more polish. Palin is capitalizing on (what seems to be) her lack of polish and what is almost certainly a genuine feeling that she is, indeed, an outsider.

  3. hsknotes said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    I agree, I think John is way off with this "utter subjectivity" theory. For someone who studied creoles, patois, and dialects, you would think he would be more attuned to what all her little tics actually mean. And as quickly as you are to question him, I have little doubt he'd get responses similar to yours if he simply asked people who spoke like Palin, or people who were around people who spoke like Palin, what those tics meant to them. That's the kind of basic research and fieldwork you'd expect from a linguist who dealt with these issues, or anyone writing an article who didn't want to say something stupid about say, pronoun usage.

  4. McLemore said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 9:27 am

    I'm sure I'm skipping over lots of relevant sociolinguistics by invoking the first writer I remember addressing this — Basil Bernstein. Assuming that your hearers share information you can mention without elaboration is a feature of his 'restricted code'. He was (perhaps mistakenly) criticized as imputing that style to minorities in an essentialist way, and though nobody is talking essentialism here, it's ironic that McWhorter is observing this characteristic in Palin's speech. Bernstein thought it was a characteristic of working class speech — because, in Leslie Milroy's updated terms, assumptions can be made among speakers in dense overlapping social networks.

    [(myl) For those who aren't familiar with the reference, that's e.g. Basil Bernstin, "Elaborated and Restricted Codes: Their Social Origins and Some Consequences", American Anthropologist 66(6.2) 55-69, 1964.]

  5. Alex said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 9:37 am

    Surely this type of rusticism is as old as "them thar hills"?

    [(myl) The use of distal demonstratives to index shared experience is older than any versions of English are, as the OED's reference to Latin iste indicates. And as a general technique it's not exclusively or even especially rustic.

    But there are lots of different ways of doing it. "This here X" and "that there Y" are indeed stereotypical markers of American "hick" speech (though I don't know exactly what their un-ironic distribution has been in space and time). But Sarah Palin doesn't use these patterns, as far as I know. Instead she uses plain this and that and there more often (and in different places) than most public figures do.]

    Don't stereotypical American hicks always say "this here pig" and "that there moonshine" and so on?

    Maybe it's a Germanic influence ("die Frau da" = "that woman there")? It certainly doesn't reveal any sort of complex psychological distancing mechanism on Palin's part. She just talks like a stereotypical dumb hick.

    [(myl) I think the last comment is unfair, since Palin doesn't in fact use the "stereotypical dumb hick" versions of affective demonstratives, but rather a different set. Her this, that, there remind me more than anything else of Thomas Pynchon, whose affection for affective demonstratives I've occasionally noted in the past.]

  6. McLemore said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    Or maybe she's indexing or creatively presupposing (Silverstein) a working class identity, of which the distribution of this feature may be characteristic. (Where are the socio studies of use??) That might help explain why she has so many avid fans on the rustic right.

  7. Mark P said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 11:05 am

    I hear plenty of speech from the rustic right down here in the Southeast US, but virtually no one uses "there" and "that" like Palin does. So although Palin has plenty of fans on the rustic right down here, I don't think any of them identify with her because she sounds like they do.

  8. TB said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    I'm not sure if this is technically the same, but I always enjoyed Gibbon's use of "that adjective noun", which strikes me as pleasantly droll, although I doubt it was supposed to be. "That unsociable nation", "that singular emperor"; that sort of thing.

    The thought of Sarah Palin holding any public office is an unhappy one to me, but I wish people wouldn't criticize/mock her (or George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld or Barack Obama or anyone) on bullshit linguistical grounds.

  9. Breffni said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    Alex, I doubt there's any German influence. "This here" and "that there" are used both as determiners and pronouns in Ulster, which seems a more likely source.

  10. Ed Nixon said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

    As a outsider, I'm fascinated with two aspects of these two posts — McWhorter & Lieberman: a) that the possibility a candidate for high office might reveal through her speech that she has never really thought about any of the issues she is confronting would not raise universal grave concern, and b) that a significant portion of the electorate would find comfort and thus support someone with the 'common' touch (if that's what it is) who demonstrates through her speech that she is manifestly unqualified for the job for which she is standing.

    Irrespective of which 'deep' interpretation of Palin's speech patterns is correct, it must be the case that her intention through her speech is to ingratiate herself with some segment of the population. I wonder how she would have been received as a candidate for President? As recent history seems to indicate, the Vice-President has latitude to say whatever crosses his/her mind, whether the mic is off or on. I'd like to hope that Palin would have fared far less well as a Presidential candidate — or rather that the possibility would never have been given serious consideration. My hope persists (even though I suppose it is none of my business.)

  11. Theodore said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    The "barometer there" quote doesn't seem to fit with the others. To me "there" is just a less verbose version of "in this instance", "when dealing with this subject", etc.

  12. Joe said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    Given how much she uses media like Facebook and Twitter, I wonder whether her intended audience really does know what she is referring to. She could conceivably blog in the morning and be quite confident her (intended) audience would know what she is speaking about later that evening. So it is like Milroy in the age of Twitter and facebook, perhaps growing out of a religious community with its set of references distinguishing insiders from outsiders.

  13. Aaron Toivo said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

    With all respect to Mr. McWhorter I think he also missed the mark on another piece of analysis:

    "And Alaska — we're set up, unlike other states in the union, where it's collectively Alaskans own the resources,” Palin will tell us, where the fact that it is not, in blackboard sense, a sentence at all is only the beginning. She means that the arrangement in Alaska is collective, but when it occurs to her she’s about to say Alaskans such that “collective Alaskans” would make no sense. So, if it can’t be an adjective, heck, just make it an adverb — “it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources.”

    Perhaps he missed the fact that the last clause is actually perfectly grammatical. Clunky, but syntactically sound, if you interpret it as "that"-dropping in a cleft:
    … it's collectively [that] Alaskans own the resources.

    It could also be as simple as a missing comma and quote marks:
    … it's "collectively, Alaskans own the resources."

  14. George Amis said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    Sarah Palin's folksiness seems to be a relatively recent addition to her public persona. There's a clip on YouTube which shows part of a TV interview with Palin when she was mayor of Wasilla (the search string [sarah palin 1998 video the reformer] will bring it up). In the clip, there is little or no evidence of the 'Minnesota' accent she adopted during the campaign, and no distal demonstratives or other conspicuous verbal tics.

    [(myl) Search result here. Interesting.]

  15. neff said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

    I move to make Lauryn Hill's "That Thing" the official theme song of distal demonstratives.

  16. Allison said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

    I don't know if Palin has gotten more than her fair share of criticism because her written transcripts of spoken speech seem to make no sense. I don't read her transcripts anymore often than I do other politicians. I think the important piece is that when I hear Sam Brownback speak, I understand him. When I hear Sarah Palin speak, I have absolutely no idea what she's going on about. Her distal demonstratives *are* like a toddlers because she does a bad job with the grown-up trick – I have *no clue* which warning bell she's talking about. The non-verbal intonation clues make it less comprehensible, not more so.

    Her folksiness is a affectation – it reminds me of a non-native speaker of a dialect attempting to use features of that dialect and sounding a sour note – when an American says "Lorry" or when my mom says "OMG", it sounds *wrong*. That's the reaction I get when I hear Sarah Palin.

  17. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

    Punch cartoon from the early 20th century (so unlikely to show German or, indeed, American influence):

    VICAR (to old man): I understand from the doctor you hear better with this ear.
    OLD MAN: What's 'e say?
    OLD MAN'S WIFE: 'E understands from the doctor you 'ear better with that there.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

    Wouldn't the name for what Palin does be, if performed on a different sort of stage, "schtick"? It makes me think of Vaudeville blackface, or SCTV's "Bob and Doug McKenzie" on Great White North.

  19. Jim F said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    Am I oversimplifying by thinking that the "this" and "that" are largely a mix of trying to sound poetic and a kind of filled pause. The reason that her speech is hard to follow is because she rambles, presumably because she hasn't organized her thoughts very well. Tossing in a few demonstratives may just be an idiosyncratic way of buying time when she's speaking extemporaneously. As for poetry — I am not a poet by any means and am too lazy to do any kind of real analysis, but it strikes me that demonstratives are used in poetry to create a certain poetic ambiguity that's a little difficult, but not quite opaque to the reader. "Do not go gentle into that good night," comes to mind immediately. I suspect the analysis in this post and similar posts is more applicable to what Dylan Thomas was trying to do with demonstratives than what Sarah Palin is stumbling upon — she's possibly just (subconsciously?) trying to copy an effect.

    Cliff notes: it's possible she's either just rambling or actually trying to sound more sophisticated rather than less.

  20. Jim F said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

    Edit: I don't mean that the demonstrative creates the poetic effect as much as it signals to the reader that more is there than what is expressly said. The use of "that" good night indicates to the reader immediately that the poem's not going to be about going out for dinner and dancing.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    I suppose the ultimate distal demonstrative in poetry is "That is no country for old men."

    But Palin's remind me more of "Give me that old-time religion" and "And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home/ And when that fog horn blows I want to hear it." And wasn't there something in M*A*S*H about chasing that native poon?

  22. Maureen said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Nobody seemed to be confused about this kind of usage in the movie Fargo. Why are people fine with Frances McDormand and suddenly uncomprehending with Palin? Did they never really understand this kind of talk, or do they lack understanding only when they dislike the person using it?

    [(myl) John McWhorter feels that he understands Sarah Palin's use of that and there, and he explains very clearly what he thinks it means. I've put forward, I hope just as clearly, an alternative analysis. That's a difference of opinion, but nobody is "uncomprehending"; nobody is claiming to "lack understanding" or to "be confused". So what in the world are you talking about? Not, apparently, this discussion.]

  23. Arctos said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

    @George Amis.

    That's exactly right, and it's a phenomenon many Alaskans have noticed. The Fargo-ish accent may have its roots in the Midwestern origins of the Matanuska Valley colonists who settled the Wasilla area in the 1930s, but it seems highly and recently exaggerated. I don't recall the folksy manner of speaking either, nor does anybody I know. It would have seemed ridiculous.

    Those of us who dislike her suspect she's pandering to her notion of "real America," deliberately or not. Perhaps others have a more generous explanation than we can muster.

  24. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    I'm vaguely reminded of the distal demonstratives of Dana Carvey as Bush the Elder, e.g.:

    Lemme tell ya, it's been a good summer, out there in the.. Bush family compound out up there in Kennenbunkport Bay, that – that whole area up there. Out in that speedboat going 'round and 'round, doing loop-de-loops. [ chuckles ] Did some fishing! Didn't catch any – not the point! No – no, sir. Got out there on that water, got in that re-lax-a-tion mode, re-charge the batteries. [transcript]

  25. McLemore said,

    April 9, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    Given how much she uses media like Facebook and Twitter, I wonder whether her intended audience really does know what she is referring to. She could conceivably blog in the morning and be quite confident her (intended) audience would know what she is speaking about later that evening. So it is like Milroy in the age of Twitter and facebook, perhaps growing out of a religious community with its set of references distinguishing insiders from outsiders.
    What an interesting idea. A public speaker who shares faux-intimacy with lots of strangers via Twitter and Facebook has to solve the problem of marking shared knowledge when addressing the public at large, which would include some of those ‘intimates’. So maybe she’s getting folksiness and shared knowledge all at once with the distal demonstratives… by accident if not design. Of course, people recognize the difference between intimate talk and public speaking, but reconciling faux-intimate talk with strangers and public speaking to strangers, that does seem like a whole new challenge. Or opportunity.

    Is somebody working on this topic?

  26. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 10, 2010 @ 12:18 am

    @Jerry Friedman: I suppose the ultimate distal demonstrative in poetry is "That is no country for old men."

    I don't think so. I think it's Dies irae, dies illa (Solvet saeclum in favilla; i.e. Doomsday).

  27. Aaron Davies said,

    April 10, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

    @TB: (without any evidence whatsoever) i'd guess gibbon picked the habit up from latin, as nearly every educated person of the time (particularly specialists in the classics) did.

  28. Anderson said,

    April 10, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    The use of "that" focused on in this blog post should be compared to the similar use by Tyrone Slothrop (in particular) in Gravity's Rainbow.

    [(myl) Yes, I mentioned Pynchon, and quoted from Gravity's Rainbow, here. In terms of the distribution of this pattern in space and time, Slothrop's use should probably be compared to that of George H.W. Bush, cited (as caricatured by Dana Carvey) by Ben Zimmer above.]

  29. WRC said,

    April 10, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

    I agree with John that Palin is intentionally distancing herself from the issues.

    At the National Tea Party Convention Feb. 4-6 in Nashville, Palin took a stab at Obama with

    “How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”

    Maybe her use of affective demonstratives helps constituents relate, but it's not always by way of nostalgia ("Chicago, that toddlin' town"); it's also by way of patronizing the other side, as if they didn't have anything substantial to add to the discussion (assuming she really wants productive dialogue).

    It's apparent that, as far as the issues go, she "hasn't given them much thought," as John says, but that's obviously not the emphasis. The issues, for her, just aren't that complicated.

    By boiling down the issues to childish lingo (e.g., "that hopey-changey thing"), she really is addressing an audience of "toddlers," as John says. And it's a "fetish," too, since it's got some kind of perverted self-righteous pleasure attached to it.


  30. J. Goard said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 3:41 am

    In my current work on article acquisition, the position I have taken is that accessibility markers (in Mira Ariel's sense) are best treated as weighted ranges along a continuum. So there are areas of overlap between a N/the N, the N/that N, that N/that, that/it, it/NULL. The overlap between the definite article and deictics is fairly common:

    (1) Wow, look at (that/the) moon!
    (2) I love (this/the) meatloaf, honey!

    Of course, they carry subtly different meanings, which to my mind is well explained as analogy with past instances of the different markers (distributed along different accessibility ranges).

    I'm very much interested in developing a literature on individual variation in accessibility markers, especially since we so clearly need to get a better handle on what's really going wrong in second language acquisition. Prima facie, we don't have any reason to assume that native speakers have identical preferences in contexts like (1) or (2), even when we restrict our focus to more "normal" patterns than Palin's.

    Palin's deictic range considerably intrudes upon the central range of the definite article. On my usage-based model, this means that (compared with you or me) she regularly analogizes a context where a referent is less accessible to her listener, to a population of contexts where it is more accessible. Mark's analysis rings true: she is assuming that more referents are familiar, in more contexts, than we typically would.

  31. Haamu said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

    Like others, I find Mark's analysis more persuasive than McWhorter's, but it feels like an aspect is being overlooked.

    Once the use of that to simulate familiarity and shared knowledge is established, it makes sense that a certain degree of trust is going to be engendered in the audience. A clever speaker can then continue to use that to imply shared knowledge of a referent even when the supposed referent doesn't exist. It encourages a suspension of critical thinking about the assertions being made.

    Where she says

    there will be that greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain's bipartisan efforts

    there's an implication that we already know that McCain has been pushing for greater oversight — it has already been identified, so no need to bother doing so now, listener.

    On the other hand, had she said

    there will be greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain's bipartisan efforts

    now we have a direct assertion, which solicits substantiation, that greater oversight will ensue.

    Familiarity may breed contempt, but looked at from the other angle, it also breeds susceptibility. Palin, a phenomenally intuitive politician, clearly understands this intuitively, and will run with it and on it.

  32. ryan said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

    [Reposting this here:]

    I agree — what little linguistic experience/research and general lack of expertise I boast, as well as general experience with hearing this oft-employed phrase — that using "that" as in "give me some of that old time magic," is an attempt to allude to a better and previous time. Not now, but then. That time, you know, when we were better. There was magic. Then. That point. That palpable moment. Grasp it.

    We can't catch it, NOT because it's gone, we merely lack the correct leadership, apparently.

    But don't you wish someone could lead our country, our people, back to that?

    And that's the appeal of that in Palinspeak: positing yourself [Frau Palin] as she who will lead us to the good ol' days.

  33. Paul Kay said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

    @ J. Goard, Haamu and Mark

    J. Goard states exactly what I was thinking, only says it better than I could have. I might draw a slightly different conclusion from that observation, though, than either Mark or Haamu does, or perhaps I should say 'in addition to' rather than 'different from'. Let's say it's agreed that one thing this use of demonstratives does is signal that certain events or entities are already part of the conversational ground whose status as such has not been established explicitly and therefore must be supplied, if supplied at all, from the addressee's background knowledge. In effect this usage assumes the addressee will take as given certain propositions which have not been asserted, let alone argued for, in the conversation to date , e.g., in Haamu's example, that John McCain has led a bipartisan effort for greater oversight. My conclusion would emphasize less the rhetorical rapport- or trust-creating effect than the more purely cognitive goal of smuggling into the common ground by "presupposition accommodation" (to use a technical but I hope fairly transparent term) propositions or entities that the attentive addressee might reject if baldly propounded.

  34. Haamu said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

    As a layperson, one of the things I most appreciate here is the constant exposure to new ideas. Thanks for the pointer to "presupposition accommodation."

    In a very brief scan of web references to the concept, I was unable to detect if anyone proposes a distinction I hypothesize: that there is a difference between what one might call passive accommodation, where the presupposition merely goes unnoticed or unchallenged, and active accommodation, where the listener actually adopts the presupposition to the extent that he might use it in a later conversation with a different person.

    I think Palin's trying to smuggle propositions not past inattentive listeners but into receptive ones. That's where I see the trust aspect playing a key part. But you're right to note that this is a complex phenomenon.

  35. Karl Narveson said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 11:45 am

    @TB: the pattern you note in Gibbon is not Gibbon's alone. The first and last verses of the book of Jonah, King James version, refer to "Nineveh, that great city". As in Gibbon, the referent is named first, and then referred to with a "that" phrase.

    The Palin oddity under discussion is her use of "that" at first mention.

  36. Paul Kay said,

    April 13, 2010 @ 12:14 am

    @ Haamu

    Point taken. I would have done better to characterize Palin's intended addressees as "uncritical", rather than "inattentive".

    On the question of whether accommodated presuppositions ever become part of the accommodator's store of useable beliefs, I don't know whether it's been systematically studied, but it seems to me that a lot of the "framing" that political orators do implicitly assumes that this can happen. I gather that, for example, a substitution like "death tax" for "inheritance tax" is made in the hope that some (uncritical) hearers will come to believe that the tax is levied on each death.


    April 13, 2010 @ 6:47 am

    […] of course that's not true: But there's another set of reasons for using that and there — not to signal distance […]

  38. Wednesday Round Up #111 « Neuroanthropology said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 10:14 am

    […] Liberman, Sarah Palin’s Distal Demonstratives A look at Sarah Palin’s speech […]

  39. Richard Whitney said,

    April 17, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

    McWhorter must construct a tortured analysis of Palin's use of 'that' and 'there' in order to authenticate his own attitude toward her.
    This use of 'that' and 'there' in these examples connotes 'evident'. It is quite evident to her audience that that there guy is having a right bad term in office there – and in no way do they mean a distance, but rather that this is an evident fact. Isn't that so?
    Distal? No. McWhorter fashions a straw-flaw analysis laced with pejoratives – 'utter', and 'fetish', with sarcastic rhetorical questions – just to diss.

    [(myl) You can disagree with John's linguistic or political analysis, but that and there are "distal demonstratives" in any case, whether used by Ms. Palin, or by John, or by you, or by me.]

  40. maidhc said,

    April 20, 2010 @ 4:16 am

    Sarah Palin is hardly the first politician to alter her accent and speech patterns to enhance her appeal to voters. Margaret Thatcher underwent a major speech makeover. George W. Bush seems to be the only member of his family with a southern accent, although I think this goes back to his college days.

    In the early 19th century there was a big emphasis in American politics on coming from humble origins, being born in a log cabin, drinking homemade cider, etc. It would be an interesting project to see if there was a similar use of particular speech patterns in those days. Although one problem may be that I think that stump speeches were not normally recorded and published verbatim in those days.

    Harold Wilson is supposed to have referred to residing at 10 Downing Street as "living above t' shop".

  41. David R said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 6:31 am

    It might be contagious!
    From New York Magazine's big Palin article today:
    “People are drawn to her,” says Fox News programming chief Bill Shine. “People look at her and say, ‘She has a bunch of the same troubles I do, there’s a mom who’s there changing diapers.’ ”

  42. Academic Linguist: Palin Speaks Like A Cognitive “Toddler,” Linguistically She’s “A Child” | Mere Rhetoric said,

    May 2, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

    […] of course that's not true: But there's another set of reasons for using that and there — not to signal distance […]

  43. Who is the Sarah Palin of the Canterbury Tales? « Corpus linguistics said,

    November 17, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

    […] Liberman's various posts on the Language Log: here and here (and maybe here; Chris Potts also has a follow-up on the LL […]

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