One of the things that marks Sarah Palin as a linguistic outsider is her use of also. In part, this is just a matter of frequency. In her contribution to last night's vice-presidential debate, she used the word also 48 times in about 7600 words, accounting for about 0.63% of her words. Her opponent, Joe Biden, used also only 3 times in about 7200 words. Relative to the rates seen in large and representative corpora, Gov. Palin used also about 5 to 10 times more often than expected, while Sen. Biden used also about 2 to 3 times less often than expected
[Details: In the million-word Brown corpus, also occurs 1,069 times, accounting for about 0.11% of all words. In the 100-million-word British National Corpus, also occurs 123,559 times, for a rate of about 0.12%. In Mark Davies' Corpus of Contemporary American English, there are 429,214 instances of also in 360 million words, for a rate of about 0.12%. In the collection of American English conversational speech at LDC Online, amounting to a bit more than 26 million words, also occurs 16,579 times, for a rate of about 0.06%. ]
But the most striking thing about Gov. Palin's affinity for this word is how she used it, not how often. 13 out of her 48 examples (27%) were sentence-final, at least as the CNN transcript marks sentence boundaries, e.g.
And I thank the commission, also.
And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.
That is not so, but because that's just a quick answer, I want to talk about, again, my record on energy versus your ticket's energy ticket, also.
And that's what John McCain and I would engage in also.
I'm sure that we're going to see more success there, also.
The surge principles, not the exact strategy, but the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan, also.
That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists, and we're securing democracy, and we're building schools for children there so that there is opportunity in that country, also.
There will be a big difference there, and we will win in — in Afghanistan, also.
But as for as Darfur, we can agree on that also, the supported of the no-fly zone, making sure that all options are on the table there also.
[Note: I'm cutting and pasting from the CNN transcript, without checking it.]
And 18 of Gov. Palin's other alsos (37.5%) were also, we might say, peripheral — initial, or between clauses, or among a pile of adverbs at the start or end of a clause, e.g.
Also as we rely more and more on other countries that don't care as much about the climate as we do, we're allowing them to produce and to emit and even pollute more than America would ever stand for.
But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.
Can we talk about Afghanistan real quick, also, though?
And I've joined this team that is a team of mavericks with John McCain, also, with his track record of reform, where we're known for putting partisan politics aside to just get the job done.
One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just every day American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again.
And Secretary Rice, having recently met with leaders on one side or the other there, also, still in these waning days of the Bush administration, trying to forge that peace, and that needs to be done, and that will be top of an agenda item, also, under a McCain-Palin administration.
We've been there also so that connection was important.
And I appreciate, too, Sen. Biden, getting to meet you, finally, also, and getting to debate with you.
That's 65% of her alsos on the edges of clauses. Three alsos also appeared between verbs and complements:
We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt.
There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.
Only 9 of her 48 alsos (about 19%) fell in a clause-medial position between subject and verb phrase (e.g. between subject and tensed verb, or between auxiliary and main verb, or between subject and predicate in a copular sentence):
Now, Barack Obama and Sen. Biden also voted for the largest tax increases in U.S. history.
And he also wants to erase those artificial lines between states so that through competition, we can cross state lines and if there's a better plan offered somewhere else, we would be able to purchase that.
So affordability and accessibility will be the keys there with that $5,000 tax credit also being offered.
And we also have John McCain to thank for bringing in a bipartisan effort people to the table so that we can start putting politics aside, even putting a campaign aside, and just do what's right to fix this economic problem that we are in.
And now we have to be ever vigilant and also making sure that credit markets don't seize up.
But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.
You also said that Barack Obama was not ready to be commander in chief.
We can start putting more troops in Afghanistan as we also work with our NATO allies who are there strengthening us and we need to grow our military.
And those leaders who are over there, who have also been advising George Bush on this have not said anything different but that.
In contrast, in a random sample of 100 alsos from the COCA corpus, 79% fell in one of the pre-predicate locations (e.g. "they are also unalterably opposed to", "She also has helped develop", "Uncle Sam also lavished money on", "Ronald Reagan has also had a notable impact on", "She also was a substitute teacher", "He was also the son of ", etc.)
Only 9% were "peripheral" — all clause-initial, in this sample — compared to 65% of Gov. Palin's alsos.
The remaining 12% of alsos in my little test sample were a mixture of quasi-idioms ("not only __ but also __", "also known as __", "see also __") and general conjunctive uses ("__ and also __").
Summarizing in tabular form:
This is enough to make me believe that there's more here than an increased fondness for the word also in general. Gov. Palin's also is not just unusually frequent, it's also unusual in its distribution of uses.
But it's not at all clear to me whether this is an individual quirk, or a matter of regional or cultural variation. And if it's more than an individual quirk, is it an innovation or a survival?
One argument in favor of the "survival" theory: the frequency of peripheral uses of also (in various spellings) in Middle English and Early Modern English; thus from the OED's citations:
c1386 CHAUCER Frankl. T. 870 The sorwe of Dorigen he tolde hym als.
1470 HARDING Chron. xxxi, Sixe temples he made, in Cambre & Logres als.
1596 SPENSER F.Q. I. ix. 18 Als Una earnd her traveill to renew.
c1603 JAMES I Chorus Ven. in Farr S.P. 3 With viols, gitterne, cistiers als.
1642 H. MORE Song of Soul III. App. liv, Als see whose lovely friendship you decline.
I haven't counted, but I'm pretty sure that the frequency of clause-final also in (say) Chaucer must be greater than the 0.5% or so found in COCA, and closer to Gov. Palin's 27%.
One argument in favor of the individual quirk: Gov. Palin also used too 14 times, which is about 2.6 times greater than the expected rate based on corpus frequencies.
As for Joe Biden, one of his three alsos was not in a canonical location, instead boldly splitting an infinitive:
And what we're not going to also hold up on, Gwen, is we cannot afford to hold up on providing for incentives for new jobs by an energy policy, creating new jobs.
Another was part of an abandoned sentence fragment, but apparently would have been in the now-usual pre-predicate location:
I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no.
That's where his remaining also was placed:
We also are going to make sure that we do not go forward with the tax cut proposals of the administration — of John McCain, the existing one for people making over $250,000, which is $130 billion this year alone.
[Update: a conservative Alaskan linguist (Adrian at Conservative Hipster) writes ("Palin's Accent", 10/4/2008):
Palin uses a bunch of “cute” turns of phrase: saying “nuclear” as “nucular”, saying “you betcha”, and using also much more than most people. The first and last of these are actually things I do as well.
So on this testimony, at least the increased frequency of also is a regional marker, and this makes it more likely that the peripheral distribution is as well. ]