Primary Leaders Use Different Words
February 9, 2008
One aspect of language is the variety of words that are used in and across utterances. If you use a greater variety of different words, then the lexical diversity is higher. High lexical diversity generally means that there is greater amount of content and the speaker has covered more topics, and used a wider variety of words to describe those topics.
Our analyses of the debates leading up to the primaries indicate that the winners have used more different words. According to Malvern and Richard’s (1997) measure of lexical diversity, Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain showed greater lexical diversity than did all of the other candidates.
However, another measure of lexical diversity, called The Measure of Textual Lexical Diversity (MTLD) may provide a more accurate estimate of lexical diversity because it is not influenced by the number of words used in the speech. As shown in the graph, Senators Clinton and Obama were the only speakers in the debates to show high lexical diversity as compared to the other speakers.
These analyses, combined with the outcome (so far) from the primaries, indicates that their covering a greater amount of content may have welcomed by American listeners.
Our analyses also indicate that Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain have less cohesive language. Because they are using more diverse words. The graph to the left shows that there is less overlap between nouns (things, objects) across adjacent sentences in their utterances. This means that listeners need to make more inferences to understand the relationships between their sentences. It seems that the top-runners asked their listeners to think more, and read between the lines. Cognitive research indicates that doing so can actually improve comprehension because it forces the listener to more actively process what is being said.
But, Senators Clinton and Obama also include more causal connectives and cues in their language to indicate the relationships between causally related concepts. For example, they are more likely to use connective such as because, so that, or consequently.
In summary, the current leaders in the primaries, Senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain have tended to use a greater variety of words and have tended to have less overlap between sentences. However, Senators Clinton and Obama also tend to include more connectives that indicate the nature of causal forces, actions and relationships. These connectives are important because they help the listener infer the intended relationship between ideas.