University of Wisconsin researchers recently evaluated former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s speech patterns in an attempt to study the doggone reaction to her home-baked vernacular in a formal setting.
Joe Salmons, UW professor of linguistics and one of the study’s authors, said he and his colleagues Thomas Purnell and Eric Raimy, UW professors of linguistics and English, respectively, examined how Palin’s speech relates to American ideas of language.
“What we’re interested in is what [Palin’s speech pattern] tells us about how Americans think about regional and social language variation, and what it means to sound too informal for some people,” Salmons said.
According to the study, the researchers used audio clips and transcripts obtained via The New York Times website from the vice presidential debate of October 2008 to accomplish their task.
The study specifically analyzed Palin’s use of colloquial words and phrases, which were perceived as informal by many. The study also compared her use of “g-dropping” to that of her then-opponent, current Vice President Joe Biden.
In regard to g-dropping, Salmons said it’s something everyone does, but when it occurs more than 10 percent of the time, people start to notice.
“We looked at all instances of [g-dropping] … and found that she does it not quite 12 percent of the time,” Salmons said. “That’s not a very high percentage, but it’s high enough that people notice it.”
In comparison, Biden only employed the technique of g-dropping when he referred to his hometown in an attempt to seem more accessible, according to the study.
G-dropping on words such as “talking,” “bringing” and “going” caused much debate as to whether or not the Alaska governor actually dropped her g’s or was simply doing so to appeal to a certain demographic.
“She [g-drops] only on very common words, like to talk and to bring. … She doesn’t do it with educated vocabulary,” Salmons said. “That sounds like it’s probably a real pattern.”
As for “heck,” “darn” and “you betcha,” Salmons said the evidence points to exaggeration by Palin, but there is no way to know for sure.
Ken Goldstein, UW professor of political science, said he does not believe the way Palin talks affects the outcome of her political endeavors.
“Sarah Palin is a complex character, and I think her actual speech patterns have very little to do with her success or failure,” Goldstein said.
Another aspect of the study was focused on the origin of Palin’s speech patterns, particularly the upper-Midwestern undertones in her speech.
Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, was settled during the Great Depression by families from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Palin’s family moving from Idaho to Alaska when she was young is also a potential cause of her accent when coupled with the upper-Midwesterners in Wasilla.
Despite the fact that people speak differently no matter where they are from, Salmons said they contacted people from Alaska who confirmed Palin speaks similarly to others from her community.
“People do have idiosyncratic ways of speaking, but clearly her speech looks like part of a broader community,” Salmons said.