19 February 2009

Diagramming Obama's sentences

Anyone who follows current events has noticed the change in oratory that has accompanied the transition of the presidency. This week the literary blog The Millions has a piece that includes a diagram of an Obama sentence. Here's the text [diagram above]:
My view is also that nobody's above the law, and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.
And here's the analysis of that sentence (and re Obama's rhetoric in general):
By contrast with the syntax, the diction is quite straightforward, which may account for why the majority of Americans, unlike their pundit overlords, don't seem to feel that Obama is talking down to them. The verbs here are all "to be" verbs, given weight by participles like "prosecuted" and "interested," and by the muscular commonplaces, "above the law," "looking forward" and "looking back." The only superfluous adjective is "clear," which sounds positively Bush-like, even as it serves to qualify the clause it's attached to. Even more remarkable: by virtue of the third "that," this is a complex sentence, but not a compound one. Like "I'm the decider," it has a single, copulative predicate.
Last autumn a Slate columnist tackled this Sarah Palin utterance:
I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.
Diagram and discussion at the link. For some background, including a note about four grammatical errors in a three-word sentence, and commentary on a relevant book, see this TYWKIWDBI entry from last October.

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