Sarah Palin’s Distal Demonstratives

Mark Liberman in Language Log:

I'm going to venture to disagree with my colleague and friend John McWhorter's diagnosis of “What does Palinspeak mean?” (TNR, 4/6/2010).

Of course, I don't disagree with John's observation that Sarah Palin's speech style is folksy and informal. As for his comment that “Palin […] 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”, we could quibble over details — how much of the difference is in what public figures say, as opposed to what gets transmitted and reported? — but let's grant that John is right about this as well.

Where I think that John may go wrong is in his analysis of that and there.

Now, there's no doubt that Sarah Palin tends to use certain demonstratives more often than most other public figures, and also tends to use them in a different way. In “Affective demonstratives”, 10/5/2008, I noted differences as great as 15-to-1 between her and Joe Biden in the 10/4/2008 vice-presidential debate. Her demonstratives often seemed qualitatively as well as quantitatively different, in characteristic examples like “Americans are craving that straight talk”. Straight talk was John McCain's slogan, but “craving that straight talk” was pure Palin.