October 12, 2004

How to Decide Who to Vote For

Public Service Announcement: If you're still not sure how to cast your votes on Nov. 2, some good places to start looking for information might be the website for the League of Women Voters, Public Agenda's First Choice 2004, or Project Vote Smart.

Some of my colleagues here on Language Log have made a cottage industry of pointing out the errors of critics of George Bush who pick on his alleged linguistic ineptness as evidence of his stupidity and/or ignorance. What I find more irritating than the questionable evidence for his ineptness is the idea that it is reasonable to judge presidential candidates by their linguistic skills. Its true that we make judgments on this basis, but for the most part we make such judgments when we don't have much else to go on and we recognize that they aren't terribly reliable for most purposes.

In the case at hand, we have a tremendous amount of much more useful information. The candidates have made many statements about their policies. In addition, we have considerable information about their performance in prevous political offices and military service. It shouldn't be at all difficult to decide between them on this basis. They have different policies on foreign affairs, the economy, civil liberties, the environment, and many other issues. They have different world views and moral values. These are the bases on which rational people should decide. I wouldn't be a linguist if I didn't think that language is interesting, but that superficial judgments of linguistic ability should enter into one's decision as to who to vote for is the height of silliness. Pace linguistics geeks and Jacques Derrida, language isn't everything.

Posted by Bill Poser at October 12, 2004 07:38 PM