> But doesn't Hemingway's prose test out at a pretty low grade level too?
> Michael Yates
> Doug Henwood wrote:
> > [Since over 80% of U.S. adults are h.s. grads, and almost half have
> > at least some college, why is the discourse pitched so low?]
> > New York Times - October 16, 2000
> > Why the Mind Shrivels for the Body Politic
> > By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
> > Does the dialogue of the presidential debates seem more juvenile than eloquent?
> > American political discourse has grown more simplistic for decades,
> > at least according to the Flesch-Kincaid reading-level formula, a
> > gauge widely used by publishers and educators for evaluating the
> > difficulty of a text, according to the length of its words and the
> > complexity of its sentences.
> > It turns out that Vice President Al Gore's statements in the first
> > debate in Boston a couple of weeks ago read at a level roughly
> > appropriate to an eighth-grader. Gov. George W. Bush spoke at a level
> > almost a grade below. Each candidate's speech fell half a grade level
> > in the second debate last week.
> > Robert Beard, linguistics professor emeritus at Bucknell and chief
> > linguistics officer of the language information Internet company
> > yourDictionary.com, evaluated the transcripts of the debates using
> > Flesch- Kincaid software now installed in many word-processing
> > programs.
> > He said that in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Stephen A. Douglas's
> > speeches tested at nearly a 12th- grade reading level, and Abraham
> > Lincoln's just above 11th grade. In the first televised presidential
> > debate, in 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke at nearly a 10th-grade level
> > and Richard M. Nixon just above 10th grade. But during the 1996
> > presidential election debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a level suitable
> > for eighth- graders, and Bob Dole at a level right for the sixth
> > grade.
> > The hands-down winner for complex talk in the current campaign is
> > Ralph Nader, of the Green Party, who hit the 12th-grade reading level
> > in a recent television appearance.
> > Speaking at a low reading level is in some ways a measure of success
> > for a politician in an age of the mass media, since less-challenging
> > usage is accessible to more of the electorate. "The lower reading
> > level shows they are more interested in people who are going to vote
> > than in history and posterity," Professor Beard said. "You wouldn't
> > simplify your speech to impress intellectuals or to appear
> > statesmanlike."
> > Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, sought the declaration of war
> > against Japan in 1941 at a comparatively erudite 12th-grade level, he
> > noted.
> > The principal candidates this year conduct their debates at a level
> > only slightly below that of the pundits who dissect their words,
> > Professor Beard said. The transcript of a recent "Meet the Press"
> > program read at a level that might be somewhat challenging for an
> > eighth-grader, and the contentious "McLaughlin Group" at a level
> > appropriate to the ninth grade. This article reads at about the
> > 12th-grade level.
> > In some contexts, complex speech may be an asset. Richard Hatch,
> > winner of the reality game show "Survivor," issued his final
> > statement at a reading level below the sixth grade, but the other
> > contestants generally spoke below fourth-grade levels. Mr. Hatch's
> > speech was complicated in part because he often used the passive
> > voice - in about 16 percent of his sentences, Professor Beard said.
> > He noted that the passive voice was an indication of deviousness,
> > often used to avoid taking responsibility for one's actions.
-- Michael Perelman Economics Department California State University Chico, CA 95929
Tel. 530-898-5321 E-Mail michael at ecst.csuchico.edu