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Debate analysis: Palin spoke at 10th-grade level, Biden at eighth

  • Story Highlights
  • Language monitoring service says Palin spoke at 9.5, Biden at 7.8
  • Candidates tied at sentences per paragraph and letters per word
  • Higher grade level doesn't mean a better sentence, expert says
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(CNN) -- An analysis carried out by a language monitoring service said Friday that Gov. Sarah Palin spoke at a more than ninth-grade level and Sen. Joseph Biden spoke at a nearly eighth-grade level in Thursday night's debate between the vice presidential candidates.

The analysis by the Austin, Texas-based Global Language Monitor said Palin, governor of Alaska and the GOP vice presidential nominee, used the passive voice in 8 percent of her sentences, far more than the 5 percent used by the Democratic senator from Delaware.

The analysis noted that the "passive voice can be used to deflect responsibility; Biden used active voice when referring to [Vice President Dick] Cheney and [President] Bush; Palin countered with passive deflections."

"It obscures the doer of the action," said Language Monitor President Paul Payack, an independent with no political affiliation.

The two candidates were nearly even in total number of words spoken. The normally voluble Biden restrained his tendency to ramble by uttering just 5,492 words during the 90-minute debate, versus 5,235 for Palin, Payack said.

In last week's debate between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, Obama spoke 8,068 words during the 90-minute event, while McCain spoke 7,150, Payack said.

Thursday night's debate between the vice presidential candidates "was more collegial, thinking out loud as opposed to just hammering points," Payack said in trying to explain the difference. "It was a much calmer style."

His analysis ranked the candidates' speech on several other levels, too. Here's the breakdown:

Grade level: Biden, 7.8; Palin, 9.5 (Newspapers are typically written to a sixth-grade reading level.)

Sentences per paragraph: statistically tied at 2.7 for Biden and 2.6 for Palin.

Letters per word: tied at 4.4.

Ease of reading: Biden, 66.7 (with 100 being the easiest to read or hear), versus 62.4 for Palin.

The analysis said Abraham Lincoln spoke at an 11th-grade level during his seven debates in 1858 against incumbent Stephen A. Douglas in their race for a Senate seat from Illinois.

But higher grade level doesn't necessarily mean better sentence, Payack said. He pointed to Palin's second-to-last sentence in the debate, which the formula put at a grade level of 18.3:

"What I would do, also, if that were ever to happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington," Palin said.

"When she said it, it sounded good, but on paper it's a completely different animal," Payack said. "It's like, what is that?"

But Biden had his own challenging moments, such as this 32-word gem, rated grade 15.6: "The middle class under John McCain's tax proposal, 100 million families, middle-class families, households to be precise, they got not a single change; they got not a single break in taxes."

Payack praised the usually longer-winded Biden for showing restraint here. "In a typical Joe Biden thing, this sentence would serve as a launching point to even more complex and convoluted statements. Last night, he was particularly reserved, and you only had to be a college graduate to decipher it, according to the readability statistics."

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