Words don't lie: semantic mapping of presidential candidates shows what's really on their minds

Hazeera Zavahir hazeerazavahir at yahoo.com
Sun Sep 28 15:42:30 UTC 2008

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--- On Sun, 9/28/08, Dennis Baron <debaron at illinois.edu> wrote:

From: Dennis Baron <debaron at illinois.edu>
Subject: Words don't lie: semantic mapping of presidential candidates shows what's really on their minds
To: "Baron Dennis" <debaron at illinois.edu>, "language language policy" <lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>, "ads ads" <ads-l at listserv.uga.edu>, "wpa" <wpa-l at asu.edu>
Date: Sunday, September 28, 2008, 12:56 AM

There's a new post on the Web of Language: 

Words don't lie: semantic mapping of presidential candidates shows what's really on their minds

With the global economy imploding and the United States mired in two wars of attrition, the presidential candidates met for their first debate Sept. 26 at the University of Mississippi. By counting their words we can create a semantic map for each candidate, a map which shows just how skillfully Sens. McCain and Obama skirted these pressing issues.

The most frequent words out of John McCain's mouth were "Senator Obama," which he said a total of 45 times according to the Washington Post's tag cloud analysis. Sen. Obama's favorite word was "going" (55 occurrences; the Post didn't count words like the and is, focusing instead on more substantive substantives and more verbal verbs).

According to MSNBC, Obama said Al Qaida about twice as often as McCain, but not enough to stir the needle on the Post's tag cloud counter, and while Obama said billion some 22 times, McCain mentioned no big dollar amounts, confirming his belief that if you have to ask what something costs, then you can't afford it. Neither candidate mentioned subprime mortgage. They can afford not mentioning it, because their homes are paid for. 

Of course partisan readers will bend even a tag cloud to fit their preconceived notions of what was said. For example, Democratic pundits concluded that the frequency of going showed Obama to be a man of action, while McCain's rehearsal of his opponent's name indicated that the aging senator had to constantly remind himself who he was talking to. But Republicans found just the opposite, spinning McCain as a pragmatist rooted firmly in the present while Obama was off wool gathering about the future.
McCain said Senator Obama more often than he said Iraq (17 times), Afghanistan (11), and troops(also 11). And McCain, who just turned 72 this week, found more ways to say, "I'm really an old guy" than his handlers might have liked. On the other hand, Obama said years 21 times, a thinly-veiled attempt to convince voters that he is actually old enough to be president . . . .

read the rest of this post on the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English                    
University of Illinois 
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801                                               

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321


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