On Language and Syntax: Loretta and Sarah

Language is a mirror, a pathway, into the workings of the brain.  How a person speaks is a peek into one’s intellect and other cognitive abilities.

I have always been fascinated by language development.  Since my college days, this topic was the area of concentration within my major of social and behavioral sciences (which is just a fancy name for the major of psychology without the required statistics course, the only subject I ever failed in my life).  Noam Chomsky’s work “Aspects of the Theory of Syntax” set forth his cognitive thesis that all human language is innate, with the formal grammatical and syntactical structures apparent at birth.  His academic theories are complex, and I am touching on just the icing.  Chomsky, as you probably know, is just as famous for his political activism as for his linguistic theories.  However, I will not be dealing with his bent for anarchy here, only his ideas of language development.

Within Chomsky’s framework, it is interesting to contrast the language abilities of Loretta Lynn and our Sarah Palin.  Why these two people, you may ask.  Recently, I not only re-viewed “Coal Miner’s Daughter” on video, but also have been listening to many Loretta Lynn CD’s.  The simplicity and blunt honesty of her words is so refreshing.  Her composing style also drives home the emotion of her thoughts.  Perhaps that is because we can so readily understand her English, grammatically and meaning-wise.  Lynn uses plain old declarative sentences, short and sweet, to say what she means.  Thus, her overall message is concise, direct and carries an emotional punch.  Listen to her song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, and revel in its simplicity, yet powerful effect:

Obviously in opposition to this orderly communication of language ability based on our innate structures, our Sarah is a mess.  She would not know a simple declarative sentence if it slapped her in the face.  When she speaks, she cannot spit out a complete sentence, with a subject and predicate.  Remember her interviews during the campaign?  Her sentences ran on and on forever, so that the overall effect was a loss of what it was she was speaking about in the first place.  I could not make heads nor tails about the points she was trying to make.  Here is an excerpt from her interview with Charlie Gibson during the campaign:

In fact, her total lack of thought organization and syntax made me doubt Chomsky’s theory of language being innate.  So I emailed Chomsky.  I put the question to him: where are Sarah Palin’s tree structures (the basic units of inborn syntax)?  The man actually emailed me back.  He did not address the apparent absence of tree structures in our Sarah’s brain, but instead, waxed politically about the sorry state of our leaders and the frightening scenario demonstrated by Palin, Bush, Reagan and Nixon.  Chomsky expressed specific concern over the populist appeal of Palin despite her lack of any kind of grasp of intellectual curiosity, political theory, policy and the ability to communicate.  In fact, he compared her to Hitler, also a charismatic leader with a frightening outcome.  An overstatement for sure, but one he nonetheless chose to drive home his point.  I think Chomsky’s lack of an answer as to where are our Sarah’s innate syntax is can be explained by the often complex relationship of  nurture invalidating nature.

Also, at times, people are judged by the regional accents of their speech, and often, misjudgments occur due to prejudice against specific dialects.  Loretta Lynn’s West Virginia accent is charming, not obstructing the grammar and meaning of her speech from shining through.  Even though she has such speech idiosyncracies such as saying “tard” for “tired”, her usage reflects the grammatical structures in her brain.  Her regional affectations do not alter the meaning of her language.

Our Sarah, on the other hand, has been credited with a “folksiness” to explain the garbage dump of her  language.  Methinks her lack of language skills reflects her lack of intellectual stimulation, i.e. reading, and further education in matters that are crucial for her desired role as a leader.  Our Sarah’s speech patterns (she has none) are called folksy.  Folksy my foot.  This is an excuse for the absence of any logical, orderly and circumspect thinking.  Her regional accent is not an issue here; her thought process is.  That is the main difference between the language of Loretta Lynn and Sarah Palin.

Don’t bother losing sleep over our Sarah.  Rather, revel in the words of Loretta Lynn.  Our genetic makeup is already established, but the inevitable outcome can be altered by hard work, a desire to better oneself and simplicity of one’s message.  Clarity of speech, clarity of thought.  You go, Loretta!

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One Response to “On Language and Syntax: Loretta and Sarah”

  1. Natalie R Says:

    Interesting blog. I too have emailed Chomsky and he surprisingly gets back to you. If you disagree he is not always the nicest and to hear him speak which I have make sure you are not tired. He can be a great sleeping pill but nonetheless the guy is absolutely brilliant. I enjoy his books more than his speeches. I have his book “Failed States” another of which I have read 1/4.

    I have to think about your comparison of Palin to Lynn a bit more. The only thing that makes me cringe about this particular blog is calling Palin “OUR SARAH.” She is not MY Sarah. I am the opposite of everything she is and I think she is a blight on our culture, our thinking and humanity everywhere. Her limbic brain predominates as she and the people to whom she appeals are primitives.

    I tend to love complex and grammatically correct sentence structure. I loved (although NOT for his politics), for example, William Buckley. He used the English language like not many are able. I often needed a dictionary to understand all he wrote but I enjoy that. English, in my opinion, is a wonderful language with its ability to express things in multi faceted ways. I believe words are there to be used and English has a plethora of them. I also love Gore Vidal who is so creative and Charles Dickens who is known for his long long long flowery sentences in which one must pay close attention. If you do, though, his words are beauty. Shakespeare too (his tragedies) are nothing less than astounding and gorgeous.

    If we asked Palin which Shakespearean tragedy she loved best I would bet my house she could NOT answer. I could. Hamlet. His inability to act reminds me of the United States Senate. 🙂

    I do not suffer stupidity easily and I am not a country western song lover. I do not like the southern dialect. Am I a snob? Maybe. I’d like to think it’s because I was born, bred and will die in the northeast. I love man’s ability to reason, to speak well, grammatically precise and in complex sentences. Palin and those like her are not my cup of tea. Wonder what tea Palin enjoys. I doubt any!

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