Linguistic Inquiry into Political Candidacy

Long time no post! I’ve been busy with school but definitely want to get back into writing. There are currently a few drafts in the works that should be coming soon. Stay tuned.

Okay, back to the post… SO, I was recently researching something for a school assignment and stumbled across this article from Scientific American entitled “What Your Word Choice Says about Your Personality.” Intrigued, I read through the article and learned about the statistical study of language and how, through word analysis, it is possible to reveal insight as to characteristics of the speaker and underlying intentions. Pretty cool, right?!

But how does it work? So glad you asked! The software is called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) and processes pieces of text by filtering the words through its dictionary, sorting them into associated categories, and outputting “percentage of words that reflect different emotions, thinking styles, social concerns, and even parts of speech.” The categories are based on psychology and look to capture the writer’s social and psychological attitudes. Understandably, small pieces of text are less accurately analyzed than longer pieces of text and multiple text sources provide the most well-rounded picture of the writer. The program was originally built in the 1990s but has undergone many new iterations and updates since then. The newest version is from 2015. If you want a more in-depth understanding as to how it works, you can read the full explanation here.

If you type “LIWC” into Google Scholar you can find how it is being used for all kinds of research studies, from predicting final course performance from students’ written self-introductions to exploring adult playfulness to dream narrative analysis.

The article also linked to a WordPress blog called “Wordwatchers” which uses the LIWC software to analyze the language of public figures. Their recent posts have explored the 2020 presidential campaigns of Biden and Trump. The image below showcases the most frequently occurring words in their acceptance speeches.

Though many of the same words are seen in both, such as “will, america, united, and great,” their word associations with Americans were different, as visualized in the next graphic.

“For Biden, the most important feature about Americans currently is how they have been impacted by the pandemic. For Trump, the view of Americans seems darker suggesting dangers to rights and liberties.” The next graphic shows their different word associations with country.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Democratic nominee, the top issues for the country in Biden’s view are health, education, and the environment. Furthermore, Biden focused on the nation’s ongoing problems with justice and inequality. True to his brand, Trump’s view of the country’s top issue was immigration. Rather than thinking about the country’s internal issues Trump was fixated on potential external threats.”

This research and analysis of their speeches provides a very different perspective of the candidates than one would get from merely listening to the debates. It speaks to their deeper values, intentions, and direction for the nation. Given that this election defines the next four years of leadership for the United States, it is important that everyone knows where they stand and what they support and that they vote, so that everyone’s voice is counted and heard.

Linguistics is such a fascinating field of study and one I would like to further explore. Language defines so much of the way people think and behave and how they see themselves and the world and how they communicate. People say actions speak louder than words, but words are not to be underestimated.

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