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Was Obama's Speech Too Smart For Its Audience?

There's an interesting story over at, which discusses the degree of difficulty in President Barack Obama's speech to the country on Tuesday evening. Linguists are apparently arguing over whether the content of the address, which concerned the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was too complex for viewers at home.

According to Paul J.J. Payack, president of Global Language Monitor, Obama's speech, which he graded a "B," catered to elites. Payack says it was written at nearly a 10th grade reading-level, as opposed to the addresses Obama typically give, which typically fall between grade seven to eight. He also noted that the sentences he used were particularly dense, including ones that stretched nearly 20 words long.

Mark Liberman, who blogs at Language Log, wholeheartedly disagrees, writing:

Why, they were almost as long as the ones that President George W. Bush, that notorious pointy-headed intellectual, used in his 9/15/2005 speech to the nation about Hurricane Katrina, where I count 3,283 words in 140 sentences, for an average of 23.45 words per sentence! And we all remember how upset the press corps got about the professorial character of that speech!


No doubt this is a fascinating argument about how a politician can best communicate to the electorate. But, honestly, quibbling over barely more than one grade level kind of bums me out. Even if it was written at a 10th grade level, I look forward to the day when all voters—who have to be 18, anyway—won't have a problem with that degree of difficulty.

After reading the linguists' various arguments, take another turn through the speech, if you'd like:


Via Mediaite.

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