Also outside

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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:

  Clause-medial pre-predicate Clause-peripheral
Palin 19% 65%
COCA 79% 9%

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. ]


  1. Larry Sheldon said,

    October 3, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

    I am not a linguist, nor am I an xpert on Alaska–but it does seem to me that in traveling in northern Iowa, Minnesota, Alberta, British Columbia, Southeast Alaska, and Alaska I have heard this sort of usage of "also".

  2. Tom said,

    October 3, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

    Not a linguist either, but this peripheral usage of "also" has always struck me when it appears in American films, TV etc. Here in Britain this usage is very, very rarely heard and would sound odd or affected; a BrE speaker would use "too" in most of Palin's sentence-final or peripheral instances.

    I had assumed that it was part of standard AmE, but if Mark Liberman finds it noteworthy I suppose not! Definitely not an individual quirk since I am familiar with this usage. I imagine it is a matter of regional/cultural variation but am unqualified to speculate on the regions/cultures involved.

  3. john riemann soong said,

    October 3, 2008 @ 10:41 pm

    It doesn't strike me as weird. It's not exactly the same filler function as say, "like" or "y'know", but it just strikes me as a placeholder word.

  4. Joe said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 2:44 am

    Yes, but you see, the important thing is that she spoke at a 10th grade level, while Biden spoke at an 8th grade level!

    (Actually, this is just some dumb talking point. But I strongly suspect that the metric used here has nothing to do with coherence and a lot to do with vocabulary. So anyone would probably speak at a "high" level if they used unnecessarily haughty words.)

  5. JanetK said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 6:14 am

    Maybe it is just me and my Canadian prairie English, but Palin's frequency of 'also' seems unusually high while the way she uses the word seems normal. I often hear 'also' as somewhat formal and would not use it much myself in conversation. It is especially formal and awkward in a sentence like, "I also will go." But it sounds OK in, "I will go also." However, I would be more inclined to say, "I will go too.", which sounds even more friendly.

  6. Peter said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 8:32 am

    As an Australian, sentence-terminal "also" sounds familiar and perfectly fine to me.

    In a previous LL post a while back, there was a discussion of sentence-terminal "but", which is also common in speech in northern Australia. I believe both the terminal "also" and the terminal "but" are annotations by a speaker to indicate the relationship of the argument just uttered by that speaker to the overall discourse — ie, signifiers of the relationship of the speaker's utterance to earlier utterances (by that same speaker or by another).

    [(myl) Discussion of phrase-final but is here.]

  7. Mark Liberman said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 9:33 am

    Peter: As an Australian, sentence-terminal "also" sounds familiar and perfectly fine to me.

    I believe that sentence-final "also" is perfectly fine for all native speakers of English. The question is, why do some people use it 10 or a 100 times more often than others do?

    One possible answer is that it's just a stylistic preference.

    Another possibility, though, is that there's a (perhaps subtle) difference in meaning or function associated with the difference in frequency of use.

    This is another instance of a question that came up with respect to UNB rises, "uptalk" and other kinds of final rises ("The phonetics of uptalk", 9/13/2008).

    Peter: I believe both the terminal "also" and the terminal "but" are annotations by a speaker to indicate the relationship of the argument just uttered by that speaker to the overall discourse …

    This makes a lot of sense. I haven't seen any phrase-final buts from Gov. Palin, though.

  8. Arnold Zwicky said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 10:26 am

    Joe: "Yes, but you see, the important thing is that she spoke at a 10th grade level, while Biden spoke at an 8th grade level!"

    The source of this claim is Paul J.J. Payack, of whom we have written several times on Language Log. You shouldn't place any credence in anything he says.

  9. curveclimber said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

    While the effect of regional English on the appearance of the word "also" sounds right, I can't help but feel the frequency of its use here was related to Palin's rhetorical use of the word.

    It felt to me as I watched the debate that she was stringing together phrases and talking points in her responses, sometimes phrases that had little reason to be close to each other or to be related to the question she was trying to answer.

    Palin's use of "also" felt like rhetorical "glue," especially in a few of the odd end uses which felt like she had lost track herself of what she was saying and was throwing "also" in "just in case," it was needed.

  10. Joe said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

    > You shouldn't place any credence in anything he says.

    I never actually believed him, I just wasn't sure if there was a good debunking of what I strongly suspected to be utter nonsense.

    That said, now that you mention the guy's name, I have found some past mentions of this guy:





  11. D Jagannathan said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    A high frequency of clause- and sentence-final also is a marked feature of Indian English, which would perhaps be curious if BrE favored too in these peripheral positions.

  12. D Jagannathan said,

    October 4, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

    Addendum: like other probably dialectal features of her speech, Gov Palin's usage of also has become a target of derision, tainted by association with her disfluency and unskillful evasiveness in her interviews and the debate.

    From Charles Blow's most recent NYT op-ed (emphasis added):

    Palin launched into her charm offensive — winking, smiling, dodging questions and speaking in her signature Sarah-phonics , a mash up of sentence fragments and colloquialisms glued together with misplaced also’s and there’s — gibberish really.

  13. Adrian R. said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 12:27 am

    Well, Palin's use of "also" is definitely more pronounced than mine normally is. I tend to use the word to introduce a new thought or phrase related (if just tangentially) to what I was previously talking about, both in writing and speech. "Also" as an interjection is not something I think I use nor heard used often while still in Alaska, but I cannot speak too authoritatively on Valley Alaskan English (which is distinct from most other forms of Alaskan English).

    For instance, in this quote:
    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.
    The first also sounds weird to my ears, while the second sounds perfectly natural. The first sounds almost like an interjection, a time-waster. I of the 9 "peripheral" also's posted above, only four sound very weird to me: three sound perfectly normal, and two sound as though Palin was substituting "also" for "too", perhaps seeing the first as more formal sounding.

    Something that has been marked about Palin's performances has been how ill at ease she has seemed while at some interviews and debates, and it is in those performances that her accent and ticks come out heavily, sometimes sounding as though she is doing her best to sound "normal" while also thinking on her feet, and failing pretty miserably. So, I'd venture that while some of the increased frequency of peripheral also's is regional, some might just be her nervousness coming through.

    Also, I'm less of a conservative and more of a libertarian, truth be told, but "conservative hipster" just has such a better ring to it.

  14. Dan T. said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 1:23 am

    Also sprach Zarathustra.
    "Also" sprach Palin!

  15. Francis Deblauwe said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 4:00 am

    In my Word Face-Off, I posted on the Biden/Palin debate. You can find "word clouds" of their respective parts as well as a very brief comparison of quantity and length of words and sentences. I'm interested to hear your opinions… By the way, Curveclimber, my first thought about "also" was similar to yours.

  16. Sili said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 8:55 am

    As a (n uneducated) Dane I can't recognise this verbal tick, but I'd love to hear from a native Norwegian. These 'filler words' do vary a lot after all.

  17. vasudeva said,

    October 5, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    curveclimber said,
    Palin's use of "also" felt like rhetorical "glue," especially in a few of the odd end uses which felt like she had lost track herself of what she was saying and was throwing "also" in "just in case," it was needed.

    Well put. It seemed a rather clumsy way to make sentences sound better-executed and more complete than they were by putting a comprehensive "finishing touch" on the ends — like a little bow on a gift, falsely signifying completeness. I got the (admittedly uncharitable) impression that the trailing 'also' may have been used to make 1 item sound to the casual listener like a list of 2+ items.

  18. Chris said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 9:41 am

    I think your percentage table is potentially misleading. Given the difference in overall frequency of "also" use between Palin and an average speaker, I think it would have been better to convert both sets of percentages to something like "'also's used this way per 1000 words". That way you could see if Palin's use of clause-medial pre-predicate "also" was at about normal levels and clause-peripheral "also"s accounted for the entire overall difference in "also" frequency.

    As it stands, the table gives the impression that Palin uses clause-medial pre-predicate "also" much LESS often than an average speaker, which is not necessarily true.

    But then, I'm just an also-ran in these linguistic circles. :)

    [(myl) But I bet you can use a calculator on the numbers in the post!:-).

    Palin's overall also rate: 0.63% ≅ 630 per 1,000.
    COCA overall also rate: 0.12% ≅ 120 per 1,000.
    Palin's pre-predicate also rate: .19*630 ≅ 120 per 1,000.
    COCA pre-predicate also rate: .79*120 ≅ 95 per 1,000.

    So in this sample, she used pre-predicate also at a rate that is similar to the rate found in a general corpus of American English (slightly more often, but probably within sampling error).

    Perhaps I should have included this calculation as well. But the main point of the post was that she uses also not just a lot more often, but also in a different way. ]

  19. kip said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 11:26 am

    I guess for me it's an individual quirk. At some point when I was in high school (~10 years ago), I consciously started using "also" in place of "too" in order to avoid confusion with "to" and "two." I didn't manage to strike "too" out of my vocabulary entirely, but it is definitely less common (especially when I'm trying to be articulate).

  20. themadlolscientist said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

    With any luck, there will be one more "also" for Palin this time next month: "also ran."

  21. Maureen said,

    October 6, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

    I associate the "also on the end" with Northerners — Wisconsin, Canada.

  22. Wednesday Round Up #32 « Neuroanthropology said,

    October 8, 2008 @ 8:52 am

    […] Log has featured a series of posts on the Governor from Alaska Also Outside Affective Demonstratives Palin’s […]

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