Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Over at TNR, there's an interesting essay, What Does Palinspeak Mean?

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

Part of why Palin speaks the way she does is that she has grown up squarely within a period of American history when the old-fashioned sense of a speech as a carefully planned recitation, and public pronouncements as performative oratory, has been quite obsolete.
The most concrete observation by the writer, John McWhorter, is this:
Palin frequently displaces statements with an appended “there,” as in “We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there...” But where? Why the distancing gesture? At another time, she referred to Condoleezza Rice trying to “forge that peace.” That peace? You mean that peace way over there — as opposed to the peace that you as Vice-President would have been responsible for forging? She’s far, far away from that peace.

All of us use there and that in this way in casual speech — it’s a way of placing topics as separate from us on a kind of abstract “desktop” that the conversation encompasses. “The people in accounting down there think they can just ....” But Palin, doing this even when speaking to the whole nation, is no further outside of her head than we are when talking about what’s going on at work over a beer. The issues, American people, you name it, are “there” — in other words, not in her head 24/7. She hasn’t given them much thought before; they are not her. They’re that, over there.

This reminds me of toddlers who speak from inside their own experience in a related way: they will come up to you and comment about something said by a neighbor you’ve never met, or recount to you the plot of an episode of a TV show they have no way of knowing you’ve ever heard of. Palin strings her words together as if she were doing it for herself
The writer goes on to look at various utterances that Palin has assembled, and finds peculiarities (e.g. converting an adjective to an adverb because - look out! - it's got to "make sense" with a noun that's suddenly emerged from her thoughts).

While this is mostly armchair analysis and speculation, what I'd really be interested to know is, how well does Palin communicate in a task-oriented environment? Fishing. Driving to point A. Assembling a bicycle. Does she speak in the manner that most of us expect of her, or does she clearly articulate the what, the how, the where, necessary to move forward? Does she give the impression that necessary equipment is "there" (where it should be), when in fact it's not? Only someone who has seen her function in a task-oriented environment would know.


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