As everyone knows, the English subordinator that can often be omitted when it introduces a complement clause ("I think (that) your plan goes too far") and also when it introduces a relative clause ("This is the one (that) I want"). And my intuition tells me that omitting that is a bit more informal than including it.
So I was a bit suprised to find that when President Obama gives speeches, he tends to add that in places where his text "as prepared for delivery" leaves it out.
Here are some examples from a speech he gave on 4/13/2011 at George Washington University, "The Country We Believe In: Improving America’s Fiscal Future". In the examples below, the "Prepared" version comes from the "as prepared for delivery" text as I originally downloaded it from the whitehouse.gov site (which now has a transcript instead — a copy of the "as prepared for delivery" version appears to be here). The "Delivered" version is my own transcript.
Prepared: This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page, more than just cutting and spending. It's about the kind of future we want. It's about the kind of country we believe in.
Delivered: This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page, it's about more than just cutting and spending. It's about the kind of future that we want. It's about the kind of country that we believe in.
Prepared: This doesn't have to be the country we leave to our children.
Delivered: That doesn't have to be the country that we leave our children.
Prepared: These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America we believe in.
Delivered: These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America that I believe in, and I think you believe in.
Prepared: We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.
Delivered: Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share.
Prepared: This is the America I know.
Delivered: This is the America that I know.
I could cite more examples from other cases of Obama's speeches as written and as delivered, but establishing the president's specific rhetorical preferences is not what I'm after here. And I don't find these presidential that-insertions incongruous or inappropriate — the point of this post is certainly not to complain about them, or to invite others to do so. But the direction of the changes in these case was opposite to what I would have predicted, if I had thought about it. And so I wondered whether my intuition about the relative formality of that-omission was correct.
I found some support for that intuition in the relative frequency of that-omission across genres. The results of searching for the strings "think that the" and "think the" — a reasonable proxy for that-omission in one context — give the following percentages (for leaving that out) in various portions of the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and in the LDC's archive of Conversational Telephone Speech:
There's some additional support for my intuition in historical trends, assuming that the written language generally moves in the direction pointed by decreasing formality. In the graph below, the blue 't' values below are for "think (that) the", the red 'w' values are for "way (that) the", and the green 'g' values are for "thing (that) the":
As in other cases when a political speech departs from the prepared version, President Obama's deviations are sometimes interpolations to add or emphasize a point:
Prepared: And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction. I believe we can and must come together again.
Delivered: And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction. And even those Republicans I disagree with most strongly, I believe are sincere about wanting to do right by their country. We may disagree on our visions, but I- I truly believe they want to do the right thing. So I believe we can and must come together again
Such cases aside, many of his deviations from the script are in the direction of less formal speech, as in the substitution of nobody for no one:
Prepared: And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political skills tell me that almost no one believes they should be paying higher taxes.
Delivered: And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political instincts tell me that almost nobody believes they should be paying higher taxes.
Again, the genre evidence confirms my intuition about the relative informality of nobody (though it also suggests an trans-Atlantic different that's new to me). The table below gives the percent choice of nobody, i.e. frequency of nobody divided by the sum of the frequencies of nobody and no one):
As for President Obama's preference for that, I suspect that it's part of a more general preference for less ellipsis and more explicit marking of structure, as in these other examples from the same speech:
Prepared: We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.
Delivered: We have to live within our means, we have to reduce our deficit, and we have to get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.
Prepared: They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush and President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress.
Delivered: They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and by a Republican Congress.
Why has this come up? It's not because I'm moving into political science or empirical studies of rhetorical options. In order to prepare material for corpus-based research in phonetics, I've recently been doing some research on the relationship among scripts, transcripts, and recorded speeches, and President Obama's speeches are available. At some point in the future, I might be able to make comparisons with the practices of other politicians.
[N.B. In case you feel that I should have called that a "relative pronoun" when it introduces a relative clause, CGEL's arguments for treating that as a subordinator in both complement-clause and relative-clause usage are in Chapter 12, 3.5.6, pp. 1056-1057.]