American freedoms

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It's probably not an accident that yesterday's inaugural address, compared to the previous half-century or so, has the highest frequency of the morpheme america (= America, American, Americans) and the lowest frequency of the morpheme freedom (= freedom, freedoms):

Following a suggestion from Jason Stanley in the comments, I've added counts for the morpheme liberty (= liberty, liberties), which makes the point even more strongly:

The numbers (with morpheme counts  translated to frequencies per million words — and I know that this means I'm giving too many significant digits…):

Kennedy1961   5117    2924      3655
Johnson1965   6614    1323      5291
Nixon1969     4684     937       937
Nixon1973    12644    2199      2199
Carter1977    4062    3249      4874
Reagan1981    6528    3264      4488
Reagan1985    8099    5399      5785
Bush1989      4717    2573      3002
Clinton1993  20497    1863      2484
Clinton1997  14279     921      1842
Bush2001     12484    3121      3745
Bush2005     14395   12956     20154
Obama2009     6227    1245      2076
Obama2013     8941    3294      5647
Trump2017    23368     687       687

I should point out that the underlying single-document counts are small — thus Trump used "freedoms" once in 1455 words, while G.W. Bush used "freedom" 27 times in 2084 words. The data comes from the transcripts at The American Presidency Project.

See also:


  1. Theophylact said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

    America First!; freedom, last.

  2. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    Next step is to establish correlation between a president's use of the word "freedom" and his actual protection of our constitutional liberties.

    [(myl) My hypothesis, in contrast, would be that word counts in major speeches tell us about PR themes, and therefore predict results only to the extent that (for example) Wheaties correlates with championships or MacDonalds with getting a break today.

    Consistent with his word choices — or rather with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller's word choices — nationalism is certainly a central theme of Donald Trump's campaign; civil liberties, not so much. What this means about his record on civil liberties as compared to G.W. Bush's — or his record on national prestige as compared to Obama's — remains to be seen.]

  3. Jon W said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    But, natch, civil liberties were not a major theme of GW Bush's campaign either. Rather, "freedom" was the thing that the terrorists hated us for.

    [(myl) True enough — but W maintained the ideology that the fight was about ideas, not just about them vs. us.]

  4. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

    Interesting that Clinton seems to come in second for nationalist rhetoric, at least going by frequency of "America".

  5. Jason Stanley said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 7:01 pm

    Thanks for this. You scooped an article David Beaver and I were writing – we did this work this morning but we were going to enclose it in an article for public consumption to explain the significance. Can you do me a huge favor and also factor in the cognates for "freedom", like "liberty"? By only focusing on "freedom" and "freedoms" you are in fact diminishing the problem. Trump didn't use "liberty" once and you need to count both "freedom" and "liberty" to see how extreme it is (excuse me if you already did this). Now to package this in a way that someone other than professional linguists see this…it's a really really vital point and cannot be buried.

    [(myl) The raw counts for total words and for forms of freedom (= freedom, freedoms) and liberty (= liberty, liberties):

    Kennedy1961 1368     7        4       1 
    Johnson1965 1512    10        2       6 
    Nixon1969   2135    10        2       0   
    Nixon1973   1819    23        4       0 
    Carter1977  1231     5        4       2 
    Reagan1981  2451    16        8       3 
    Reagan1985  2593    21       14       1 
    Bush1989    2332    11        6       1 
    Clinton1993 1610    33        3       1 
    Clinton1997 2171    31        2       2 
    Bush2001    1602    20        5       1 
    Bush2005    2084    30       27      15 
    Obama2009   2409    15        3       2 
    Obama2013   2125    19        7       5 
    Trump2017   1455    34        1       0 

    Adding the Freedom+Liberty counts and re-graphing:


  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

    I assume you thought that Pres. Ford's remarks on the occasion of assuming office under unusual circumstances in Aug. '74 shouldn't be included because they weren't really an example of the same genre, due to those unusual circumstances? Which seems fair except it makes one curious about the scoring. (He didn't say "carnage," but that speech did introduce the striking NP "long national nightmare.")

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 21, 2017 @ 8:10 pm

    It also appears that the "new words" search the Post was doing is doing just a straight/dumb identification of wordforms. It's not doing lemmas (e.g. that "subsidized" is new doesn't mean no prior president said "subsidize" or "subsidizing") or closely-related words (maybe some prior incumbent said "subsidy"?) and certainly not concepts. If "bleed" is new, there's a rather famous phrase in Lincoln's second inaugural that uses a closely-related word ("until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword") and indeed that phrase is part of a passage that could fairly be described as a meditation on "carnage."

  8. Joseph F Foster said,

    January 22, 2017 @ 8:31 am

    One comment on a phrase in Jasaon Stanley's comment above:

    Can you do me a huge favor and also factor in the cognates for "freedom", like "liberty"?

    Since this is a Linguistics / Language site, I point out that freedom and liberty are not "cognates". They may be near synonyms which I believe was the term wanted. English free and German frei are cognates — words descended directly each from *Proto-Germanic, neither borrowed from the other.

  9. Jason Stanley said,

    January 22, 2017 @ 9:31 am

    Thank you for doing this work! Much appreciated.

  10. Rose Eneri said,

    January 22, 2017 @ 10:01 am

    The inauguration speech word-count chart within Jason Stanely's comment is really interesting. Kennedy's is the 2nd shortest, but probably the only one that can be quoted. Johnson's frequent use of "liberty" reflects the fear of Communism being played-out in Vietnam.

    What exactly did Carter say?!

    Reagan's frequent use of "freedom" in his 2nd speech reflects his efforts to bring down the Berlin wall and all that entailed. Clinton's 2 speeches are amazingly similar, both with heavy use of "America." GWB's second speech reflects the threat to America's freedoms and liberties posed by terrorism. Trump's highest use of "America" reflects his platform to put America first.

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