01 July 2010

Update on the linguist post

That last post, about the bogus linguist?

Apparently Andrew Sullivan got to it to, linking to an article by A REAL LINGUIST who finds that Kathleen Parker and the pseudo-analysis of Obama's language she relies on are both ... well, bunk. Parker finds it "feminine" that Obama used the passive voice so much. Based on this she wrote a column claiming Obama as our first female president (coming from a female, this is hilarious on more levels than you might suppose)..
But I did just make a quick analysis of president George W. Bush's post-Katrina address to the nation. I count 142 sentences, 25 of which contained one or more passive-voice tensed verb constructions. That's 17.6%. Doing the same thing with Barack Obama's post-oil-spill address, I count 135 sentences, 15 of which contain one or more passive-voice tensed verb constructions. That's 11.1%.

Which would make George a .... woman? Well, I have to admit, that is one thing I never supposed he was.

where is a world analyst when we need one?

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At 01 July, 2010 21:12, Anonymous Maire said...

The passive voice is for wusses. And anyone else trying avoid responsibility. I'd fail 'em both.

At 02 July, 2010 22:38, Blogger jack perry said...

Are you calling mathematicians wussies? A large number of mathematical papers use the passive voice disproportionately.

If you are, well, okay. Just wonderin'. ;-)

At 03 July, 2010 21:27, Anonymous Maire said...

If a mathematician were to write a history paper in my class using too much passive voice, than yes. You need agency in history. Otherwise:
America was discovered
The was was fought
Dredd Scott was owned
the Roman Empire was risen

In history, you need to explain whodunit. Was America discovered by Columbus? The Vikings? Ancestors of Native Americans crossing a land bridge from Asia?

Plus, as I temped my way through grad school, I got very tired of hearing "the printer is broken" from the very eejit who broke it.

When used very judiciously, the passive voice is a tool like any other (shhh; don't tell my students). But it's rarely used as it should be -- when there is no agent, or the agent is unknown. I have no objection to "the universe was born ~13 billion years ago."

At 04 July, 2010 12:11, Blogger Clemens said...

I don't know about mathematicians, but I think she just insulted the entire Spanish speaking world.

At 04 July, 2010 17:59, Blogger jack perry said...

America was discovered by the nomadic tribes of Asia. The war was fought by men of great valor but questionable judgment. Dred Scott was owned by a white man.

I confess myself at a loss with "the Roman empire was risen."

That said, I meant it as a joke. I personally strive to change from passive to active voice as often as possible. But, as with most of the curious things I do, it's basically a drop of water in a great big sea of passivity (in this case). I think it's the consequence of academic English being an international language.

At 04 July, 2010 22:21, Anonymous Maire said...

Yes, Spanish loves the passive voice. Actually, it's entirely acceptable in UK-standard written and spoken English. But we are a direct people in America, so active voice it is.

At 08 July, 2010 07:14, Anonymous Felix said...

but Presidents don't write their speeches

so are they employing women or girly men to write their speeches?

At 08 July, 2010 07:20, Blogger Clemens said...

Girly men? Among the political elite inside the beltway?

Yes. That's true.


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