In related news, Katharine Seelye of the NYT has a piece today called
Past Debates Show a Confident Palin, at Times Fluent but Often Vague.That header calls to mind Mark Liberman's recent Palin-McCain-inspired call for "a disfluency index — or better, a vector of qualities related to fluency and coherence — that could be used to put the field of political babble-ology on a sound footing."
Anyway, Seelye writes that Palin's earlier debates showed these traits:
Her sentences were distinguished by their repetition of words, by the use of the phrase “here in Alaska” and for gaps. On paper, her sentences would have been difficult to diagram.Well, if you want"difficult to diagram", on paper or otherwise, a couple days ago I heard a blurb for NPR's business show about the bailout, asking "when and will" a solution be reached. (The syntactic analysis aside, the phrase is familiar and doesn't even sound so bad to me, but it triggered a look of horror when I bounced it off the missus.)
A common view is that normal speech represents one big verbal train wreck, but it's worth noting that not everybody sees it that way. In his seminal "Logic of Non-standard English" (available here via Google Books), Labov says this, based on his own work with 'everyday speech':
the great majority of utterances in all contexts are complete sentences, and most of the rest can be reduced to grammatical form by a small set of editing rules. The proportions of grammatical sentences vary with class backgrounds and styles. The highest percentage of well-formed sentences are found in casual speech and working-class speakers use more well-formed sentences than middle-class speakers. The widespread myth that most speech is ungrammatical is no doubt based upon tapes made at learned conferences, where we obtain the maximum number of irreducibly ungrammatical sequences.There's a lot buried behind that quote (like arguing against Chomsky on 'poverty of stimulus', see footnote 11), but maybe it means that we need a general field of babble-ology! Who'll endow the first chair?
Image from here.