We can fairly be accused of spending too much time recently on the subject of how Sarah Palin talks, though in this respect, Language Log is simply reflecting the level of popular interest represented by the millions watching her clips on YouTube. This post also pivots (to use a couple of her special words) off of her way of talking — so if you're tired of the subject, you might want to move on, or even avail yourself of our famous double-your-money-back-in-case-of-less-than-full-satisfaction guarantee.
In a comment on a recent LL post, John Curran wrote "I noticed last night that Governor Palin's verbal style seemed to employ more deictic terms". (Here deictic refers to the demonstrative "pointing words" this, that, these, and those.) John's observation is mostly but not entirely true, as this table of word-counts from the debate transcript suggests:
Joe Biden actually used this more often than Sarah Palin did. And a simple word count doesn't test John's hypothesis about that, since this word has four common uses, only two of which are deictic. Examples from Gov. Palin's contributions to the debate:
|DEICTIC||Determiner||He sounded that warning bell.|
|Pronoun||And we need to stop that.|
|And with the surge that has worked
we're now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq.
|Complementizer||And we know that it's real.|
If we break out the deictic uses of that, we find this pattern:
So Biden used this a bit more often, and Palin used deictic that, these, and those more often. In the case of these, she racked up an impressive 15-to-1 advantage, including some pretty virtuoso pointing:
Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars.
And East Coast politicians who don't allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them, and instead we're relying on foreign countries to produce for us.
In general, Gov. Palin often uses demonstratives in situations where others might hesitate because it's not clear that there's anything definite enough to point to. I already quoted her reference to "that warning bell" that John McCain is said to have sounded. Another example is her reference to Condoleeza Rice "trying to forge that peace":
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.
And another example is her assertion that Americans are "craving that straight talk".
Oh, yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider. And someone just not used to the way you guys operate. Because here you voted for the war and now you oppose the war. You're one who says, as so many politicians do, I was for it before I was against it or vice- versa. Americans are craving that straight talk and just want to know, hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it and it was a war resolution.
But even more important is that world view that I share with John McCain.
There's something going on here that I recognize, or at least I think I do. But I'm not sure that I know exactly what it is, and I don't believe that there's a standard term to refer to it, and I certainly don't understand its distribution in time and space and society.
Consider the use of "that twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes" in the second sentence of Peter Keough, "Paul Newman on 'The Road to Perdition'":
Many of the eulogies for the late great Paul Newman have focused on the saintliness of the man, an aura of goodness that emanates from him both on and off the screen. “Someone Up There Likes Me,” indeed. Truth be told, he always had a knack for playing an asshole, whether an outlaw or a rogue or an outcast or a downright villain, that twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes could just as easily evince malice, irony, corruption or anarchy as benevolence and beatitude.
Neither the eyes nor the twinkle have previously been mentioned, though perhaps they're evoked by the "aura of goodness" or just by the mention of Paul Newman. But by using the demonstrative, Keough brings the twinkle into the discourse in a way that makes it seem like comfortable common ground.
This use seems to be related to sense 1.b. in the OED's entry for that as "demonstrative adjective"
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. (Now distinguished from the definite article THE as being demonstrative, i.e. pointing out, and not merely definitive, i.e. distinguishing or singling 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 …) implying censure, dislike, or scorn; but sometimes commendation or admiration. Freq. standing before a noun or noun-phrase in apposition with another.
Since I don't know an existing term for the OED type II.1.b uses, I'll call them affective demonstratives.
But the OED's citations are somewhat different in character from the cases we're talking about here, e.g.
1563 Homilies II. Gluttony (1859) 301 Holofernes..had his head stricken from his shoulders by that seely woman Judith. 1591 SPENSER Tears of Muses 401 Thy gay Sonne, that winged God of Loue. 1611 SHAKES. Cymb. III. iv. 15 That Drug-damn'd Italy.
There's certainly no apposition involved in any of Gov. Palin's affective demonstratives. And "that straight talk" is something like "that seely [i.e. holy] woman Judith" or "that drug-damn'd Italy"; but in many of her examples (e.g. "that peace" and "that world-view"), there's no explicit evaluative modifier either.
Often, there seems to me to be a tint of "censure, dislike, or scorn" (or "commendation or admiration") in Gov. Palin's use of demonstrative determiners that can also be construed as ordinary references to persons or things "having just been mentioned and thus mentally pointed out". For example:
Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period. Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that's a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry. But for those countries — North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il — we have got to make sure that we're putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important. Can we talk about Afghanistan real quick, also, though?
If this is true, it might help explain why she uses most demonstratives more often than might be expected — she intends them to carry an emotional as well as demonstrative load.
Some questions: Is there already a literature on this topic? Is there really a continuum between ordinary and affective demonstratives? What sub-types are worth separating out? What is the difference in affective uses between proximal (this, these) and distal (that, those) demonstratives? Do affective uses of demonstratives develop in other languages as well? Given the long history of affective demonstratives in formal writing, why do Sarah Palin's uses sometimes seem unexpectedly colloquial or informal?
[SIde note #1: Though I've never tried to verify this impression by counting, I believe that there's a rich vein of affective demonstratives in Thomas Pynchon's interior monologues. Thus from Gravity's Rainbow (p. 21 of the 1995 Penguin edition):
This morning in his IN basket were order sending him TDY some hospital out in the East End. No explanation beyond an attached copy of a note to ACHTUNG requesting his reassignment "as part of the P.W.E. Testing Programme." Testing? P.W.E. is Political Warfare Executive, he looked that up. Some more of that Minnesota Multiphasic shit, no doubt. But it will be a change from this rocket-hunting routine, which is beginning to get a little old.
Side note #2: The OED's discussion of that II.1.b has a sort of codicil, omitted above, documenting a sexist use that was new to me: "Also that one, used disparagingly of a woman." Citations:
1848 THACKERAY Van. Fair liv. 486 You don't know how fond I was of that one... Damme, I followed her like a footman. 1922 F. H. BURNETT Head of House of Coombe vii. 75 That one in the drawing-room isn't going to interfere with the Nursery. Not her! 1980 J. DRUMMOND Such a Nice Family v. 22, I tell you, it's her!.. I wouldn't forget that one, not if I lived to be a thousand.
I've certainly seen the phrase "that one", but it never occurred to me that it was specifically feminine in reference. I wonder if this is really true.]
[Update: Lauren Squires has a relevant discussion over at Polyglot Conspiracy: "It's not the accent".]