Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gove, Gwynne, Churchill ...?

One of may favourite toys at the moment is the Text Analyser provided by As Gove's Golden Rules have been so much in the news of late, and as he is such an espoused fan of Winston Churchill, it occurred to me that it might be fun to put Gove's Rules into the analyser, in comparison with a text that Churchill sent to his War Cabinet. The texts are of different lengths, so the comparison is not as balanced as I might have hoped, but the circumstances (a politician briefing his underlings) are quite similar.

Here is Churchill's score:
And here is Gove's:

One number jumps out: the one for Hard Words, defined in the Using English help as
words with three or more syllables. This definition is used in calculating the readability and difficulty of a text, including the Gunning Fog Index
Nearly 12% of Gove's text includes such words, whereas Churchill's text has a score of less than 9%. For words of up to 5 letters, honours are pretty even, but from 6 letters and more Gove (with a few exceptions) stretches his sesquipedalian legs. He beats Churchill on 6 letter words, 7 letters, 8 (by a factor of more than 2), 9 (by a factor of more than 3), 12 and 13 (Churchill has none). Churchill leads in his percentage of 10 and 11 letter words, and is alone in using a single 15 letter word.

This word, 'conversational', is not so Hard. In fact the very concept of Hard Words is a subjective one that the writer of the Text Analyser has tried to render objective by tying it to syllable count. But hardness is a much more complex thing than that, including familiarity (e.g. 'family', with three syllables, is much less hard than 'ilk', with only one), abstractness (e.g. 'motor-bike', with three syllables, is – I would say – less hard than 'traffic', with only two)... and many other factors. For more information on the full text, see this TES resource, which I made with an earlier version of the Text Analyser, comparing Churchill's text with an Aunt Sally parody I wrote – breaking all Churchill's rules and then some).

But Gove does not come off too badly in the comparison. His and Churchill's Fog Index scores are pretty much the same; and Gove's sentences aren't as long (sentence length is one of the factors considered in calculating the Gunning Fog Index.) This (shorter sentences) is what lets Gove use longer words but still have a slightly lower Fog Index. And his Lexical Density is considerably lower than Churchill's.

So, my report:
Satisfactory, but could do better. He seems to have come under the dubious influence of an older boy (Gwynne Major).  We can only hope he snaps out of it soon.

And while we're on that subject, I heartily recommend Oliver Kamm's piece in this Saturday's copy of The Times, in which he calls Gove's guidance 'well-intentioned and largely either futile or destructive' and says of Gwynne's Grammar
It is a work of titanic silliness, and it's alarming that the Education Secretary doesn't see this.
(That's got quite a ring to it. Gwynne's marketers – probably himself [among his shortcomings, self-effacement isn't one] – should snap that one up. I can see the cover sticker now: '... Work of Titanic Silliness').


† One tweeter even proposed this bingo game:
He appended to this a link, but in this capture it wouldn't have been live. It is the same as the one I used above for Winston Churchill.

‡ Lexical Density = (Number of different words / Total number of words) x 100
Update 2019.07.28.10:50 – Old footer deleted

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