NPR reported it this morning, and I listened with rapt attention during my commute to work:
It turns out that the sophistication of congressional speech-making is on the decline, according to the open government group the Sunlight Foundation. Since 2005, the average grade level at which members of Congress speak has fallen by almost a full grade…The Sunlight Foundation took the entire Congressional Record dating back to the 1990s and plugged it into a searchable database. Lee Drutman, a political scientist at Sunlight, took all those speeches and ran them through an algorithm to determine the grade level of congressional discourse. “We just kind of did it for fun, and I was kind of shocked when I plotted that data and I saw that, oh my God, there’s been a real drop-off in the last several years,” he says. In 2005, Congress spoke at an 11.5 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. Now, it’s 10.6. In other words, Congress dropped from talking like juniors to talking like sophomores. Flesch-Kinkaid equates higher grade levels with longer sentences and words with more syllables.
— Tamara Keith, “Sophomoric? Members of Congress Talk Like 10th Graders, Analysis Shows,” NPR, May 21, 2012
This is of course right in line with the general trend of America’s linguistic devolution and infantilization that has been underway for several decades now. A few years ago I published a post here about its specifically literary manifestation. If you’ll pardon me the indulgence of quoting myself (since there’s crossover interest with today’s NPR story):
This morning, not long after sitting for 20 minutes or so of meditation, while I was drinking my coffee and checking my news feeds, I came across a headline announcing “US gives Iran ‘last chance’ warning over shutting down nuclear facility.” Right after that I saw a separate one announcing that “Russia Is Massing Troops on Iran’s Northern Border and Waiting for a Western Attack.” Naturally, this worked in tandem with the coffee to wake me up. Read the rest of this entry