Year of Publication

2019

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Engineering

Department

Computer Science

First Advisor

Dr. Judy Goldsmith

Abstract

Press releases serve as a major influence on public opinion of a politician, since they are a primary means of communicating with the public and directing discussion. Thus, the public’s ability to digest them is an important factor for politicians to consider. This study employs several well-studied measures of linguistic complexity and proposes a new one to examine whether politicians change their language to become more or less difficult to parse in different situations. This study uses 27,500 press releases from the US Senate between 2004–2008 and examines election cycles and natural disasters, namely hurricanes, as situations where politicians’ language may change. We calculate the syntactic complexity measures clauses per sentence, T-unit length, and complex-T ratio, as well as the Automated Readability Index and Flesch Reading Ease of each press release. We also propose a proof-of-concept measure called logical complexity to find if classical Boolean logic can be applied as a practical linguistic complexity measure. We find that language becomes more complex in coastal senators’ press releases concerning hurricanes, but see no significant change for those in election cycles. Our measure shows similar results to the well-established ones, showing that logical complexity is a useful lens for measuring linguistic complexity.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2019.131

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