Friday, April 9, 2010

Doubleplus Ungood Palinspeak


In an academically rich yet entertaining post, linguist John McWhorter explains what exactly it is about Sarah Palin’s speaking abilities that gives some people pause:

Social scientists and historians could probably spend lifetimes studying how a woman barely capable of stringing together a noun and a verb — let alone possessing meaningful understanding of the complex issues facing us — is also such a remarkably skilled politician as to stake out as her own territory the entire landscape of troubled and dreary right-wing America.

From McWhorter. Worth a read.

It’s not quite Bushspeak, which, with the likes of “I know what it’s like to put food on my family,” was replete with flagrantly misplaced words with a frequency that made for guesses, not completely in jest, that he might suffer from a mild form of Wernicke’s aphasia, interfering with matching word shapes to meanings. (Bush the father wasn’t much better in this regard—there just wasn’t an internet to make collecting the slips and spreading them around so easy.)

Rather, Palin is given to meandering phraseology of a kind suggesting someone more commenting on impressions as they enter and leave her head rather than constructing insights about them. Or at least, insights that go beyond the bare-bones essentials of human cognition — an entity (i.e. something) and a predicate (i.e. something about it).

The easy score is to flag this speech style as a sign of moronism. [..]

Yep. Sure is. Next case...

Palinspeak is a flashlight panning over thoughts, rather than thoughts given light via considered expression. [...]

A flashlight with a dim bulb and low batteries panning over not much thought. It works for her given her audience. A strong light on her thoughts would reveal a vast wasteland into which she happily leads others for money. The difference between her and the Pied Piper is that she wants the rats to take over Hamelin. And if they don't pay her, she'll leave the children there and just make them as stupid as their parents.

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