Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New frontiers in the science of language: "Millions of words a day"

Gee, maybe we don't have enough language blogging going on. Last night, I heard Hillary Clinton, in her efforts to untangle herself from the Tuzla mess, say this (quoting from here, which matches my recollection):
I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.
Now, I've waited almost 24 hours before posting on this, figuring the big dogs over at the Log would jump on it as a logical follow-up to Mark Liberman'sexcellent posts last year about Brizendine on gender differences. These included claims how women were alleged to speak much more than men. The whole 'talkativeness' thread over there was relevant, but this post gives this Brizendine claim about gender and words-per-day:
A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000.
If Senator Clinton was being accurate in her self-assessment (and we linguists know that this can be a problem on occasion), and if the plural is just barely right (i.e., if she uses 2,000,000 wpd [= words per day]), she is speaking as much as 100 women at Brizendine's rate. More impressively, that comes to 286 man-wpd.

Seriously, I think this resolves the question of the empirical basis of Brizendine's work: Most or even all other females can speak exactly as many words as men on a daily basis. Brizendine's sample happened to include Clinton, and Brizendine failed to exclude her as an outlier, which skewed the numbers to this degree. Looks to me like a sample size of 150 per gender would get you about this result: 149 women uttering 7,000 wpd + Clinton's 2,000,000 would yield 20,287 wpd. That would be one solid sample, you'd think, save for the outlier. Wonder what the standard deviation came to for the other 149?

Wow. But I like the sentiment in the image (from here) better.


Anonymous said...

And note the screaming tautology: If I misspoke it was a misstatement!

Anonymous said...

What speaking rate do you need to have to utter two million "wpd"? And how much sleep can you get and do that?

The Ridger, FCD said...

"If I misspoke, that was just a misstatement" clearly translates to "If I said something that wasn't true, it was an error, not a lie".

I don't find that part of what she said difficult to follow at all.

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, it took me a minute to get to that reading, actually.