Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

The language of politics degenerates into simplicity | Science

The language of politics degenerates into simplicity | Science


The writer Samuel Johnson said that language is the clothing of thoughts and, if this is the case, current politicians think with their tracksuit on. Trump would not be an accident, but a step down in a downward trend towards the simplification of speech in politics. In the last decades, the language used by the leaders of countries as different as Spain, USA and Sweden has been losing complexity and analytical capacity, to evolve towards simpler sentences and constructions and, however, more confident and sure of themselves. .

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"As life becomes more complex and uncertain, a leader who communicates an intuitive and firm solution can be especially attractive," says the study.

A study published this month assures "that President Trump and leaders like him did not emerge from nothing, but are the latest incarnation of long-term political tendencies." "The trends found in this research suggest that voters may be increasingly attracted to leaders who turn complex and difficult problems into easy to understand with intuitive and safe answers," says this study. published by researchers from the universities of Texas and Princeton in PNAS.

According to EL PAÍS, the main author of the work, Kayla Jordan, some political figures communicate their ideas focusing on ideas and concepts, in a more analytical way, while others communicate their ideas more informally and focus on people and actions, which is considered less analytical. "In our study, we discovered that over time all political figures are communicating more and more in a more informal, more narrative," says the psychologist at the University of Texas.

This work analyzed hundreds of thousands of political texts, speeches and interventions in the chambers of all the presidents of the United States and other political representatives over hundreds of years. They also included speeches by political leaders from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia to verify that, in effect, this tendency towards simplification and confidence in the political language was a global phenomenon, although more recent than in the US, since it began in the decade from 1980.

In addition to losing analytical capacity in their speeches, simplifying them, leaders have gained security in what they say. The upward trend in confidence in what is affirmed is a phenomenon that began in the US with the arrival of the 20th century, but which is now more marked and extended than ever: "These results clearly suggest that the recipe that probably helped Trump to become a successful presidential candidate was launched almost 100 years before he took office, "says the study.

The researchers, along with speeches and legislative texts, also analyzed two million articles of the New York Times, 5,400 books, the subtitles of 12,000 films and the transcriptions of 20 years of CNN. The intention was to know if the phenomenon of simplification of speech is general, cultural, and that of politics would only be a reflection. But no: the confidence and analytical capacity of all these texts remained stable over the decades, while in politics they shot up and sunk, respectively. Only CNN, truffled with political interventions, had a similar behavior.

A few days apart, researchers from the University of Amsterdam and University College Dublin they just published another study, in PLoS ONE, in which hundreds of thousands of speeches were analyzed from a dozen European countries, expanding the language focus, but with the same conclusion: "The general trend in the complexity of speech is downward." Both works use different linguistic tools to shred the politicians' speech, but with similar results (see final summary).

Nationalists and popular

These researchers also analyzed the speakers of the Congress of Deputies in the period from 1989 to 2015 (36,000 texts). "In our data we find that socially conservative speakers use on average less complex language than socially liberal politicians, in line with other countries," says Schoonvelde. According to their data, the deputies who scored higher in the average complexity of their interventions are Rocío López González (PP, 2011-2016) and Joseba Zubia (PNV, 1982-1993). And the simplest speakers would be Enrique Fernández-Miranda (PP, 1989-2004) and Joan Puig (ERC, 2004-2008).

In this work, they also find a very clear and robust pattern in the simplicity of discourse based on ideology: "Culturally conservative politicians use a less complex language than culturally progressive politicians, this is true for all subjects, countries and times, and for various types of politicians, "says the leader of this study, Martijn Schoonvelde. This political scientist at University College Dublin explains that other studies have determined that less complex language attracts more conservative voters. In addition, his study has corroborated that "when a party becomes more conservative in cultural issues (for example, if it becomes more anti-immigrant), the linguistic complexity of its discourses diminishes."

In Spain, the speech of President Rodríguez Zapatero was grammatically less simple than that of President Rajoy, for example. Similarly, Gordon Brown had a more complex speech than David Cameron. Y Jeremy Corbyn expresses greater analytical thinking than Theresa May, like Hillary Clinton in front of Trump. Two of the politicians who handle a more simplifying language in all Europe are, precisely, two exponents of the populist right: Geert Wilders, leader of the extremist Freedom Party, and Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the extreme right-wing Democrats of Sweden. "These two politicians use a comparatively simple language, but that is in line with their conservative social ideology.It would be interesting to follow this study with a systematic comparison between populist politicians and the current," suggests the political scientist.

Populism and means

However, Jordan clarifies that "none of these trends are necessarily a bad way to communicate, and for political leaders, communication in a more simple and informal way can make them more accessible to a wider audience." He adds: "We do not directly study populism, but we speculate that the rise of populism, and more specifically the increase in participation and attention to politics, is likely to help perpetuate these tendencies as leaders try to reach large groups. of voters with safe and pleasant messages. "

"Increased competition among the media may force politicians to use a simpler language to carry their message," according to Schoonvelde

"As daily life becomes more complex and uncertain," says the US study, "a leader who communicates an intuitive and firm solution to society's problems can be especially attractive."

Schoonvelde believes that it is not true that all voters like their politicians to speak with less analytical answers, but with more confidence. It alludes to other previous investigations that have found that less complex language attracts more conservative voters, while the opposite occurs with progressive voters. For Schoonvelde, these findings put the spotlight on a "regrettable" possibility: that both sides of the ideological spectrum will be separated even by their way of speaking.

The political scientist believes that "changes in the media landscape" may be orienting this polarization: "The increase in competition between media and between types of communication compared to previous decades may be forcing politicians to use a simpler language to make your message heard. "

I you we

For linguists, words such as pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions betray people's way of thinking. Previous studies have linked the use of pronouns, negations and auxiliary verbs with a worse analytical or more intuitive thinking. It has also been shown that a greater use of "you" and "we" indicates a confidence than the use of "I" and "me". This is the basis of the American study.

The European is based on grammatical factors and also on the analysis of the concepts used: "The complexity is a weighted average based on the length of the words and the length of the sentences, the longer each sentence is in a text and more long are the words in that sentence, the greater its complexity, "explains Schoonvelde. He adds: "Our complexity measurement also includes content words." Jordan sums up the difference: "His measure of complexity focuses on grammatical and syntactic complexity, while our measure focuses on the organization of ideas."

In both cases, however, they are based on previously consolidated tools in different studies that have shown that they serve to discover patterns in the way people express themselves.

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