Analyzing Verbal Tone With Diction

Hart (1984, 2000) is interested in word choice in political communication. Over the last two decades he has developed a computerized word count program called DICTION (Hart, 2001). DICTION is designed to reveal the verbal tone of political statements by characterizing text on five statistically independent master variables: activity, optimism, certainty, realism, and commonality. The rationale behind these master variables is that "if only five questions could be asked of a given passage, these five would provide the most robust understanding" (Hart, 2001, p. 45). The five master variables are composed of 35 linguistic subfeatures (e.g., optimism is composed of the subfeatures praise, satisfaction, inspiration, blame, hardship, denial).

DICTION relies on 10,000 search words that are assigned to the categories without overlap. The output is either a profile of absolute values or norm scores that is based on 20,000 samples of verbal discourse. Special features of DICTION are the ability to learn, that is, to update its database with every processed text, and a statistical weighting procedure for homographs. DICTION has been used to analyze presidential and campaign speeches, political advertising, public debates, and media coverage. It is instrumental in aim, is thematic in the approach, captures language at a broad level, and focuses on stylistic aspects of texts.

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