Final project reflection


Our team’s research question is to investigate if Obama actually is using code-switching technique in his speeches when talking to audiences belong to different classes, race and ethnicity groups. I can’t help but feel obligatory to share this Youtube video with my fellow readers. Although it is an exaggerated version of how code-switching technique is used, it can still be an excellent example demonstrating how it can be adopted in real life.


President Obama drew public and media’s attention at the very first day he became the president of the United States since 2008. He becomes an embodiment of black culture as he being the first African-American president of the United States. The definition of code switching originally indicates  frequent and instant switching between two or more distinct languages (Wikipedia). However, in our project, we tend bring a more generic and broad definition of code switching.Now it also indicates subtle and reflexive changes of the way people express themselves encountering different situations. The project first performs general linguistic analysis and then attempt to find traces and evidence of cases which code-switching was used in his speeches.


Our project assumes audiences have no sociology and linguistic backgrounds. All terminologies and abstract ideas that are needed will be explained in a way that is understandable by everyone. All visualization will be digital and we post our work on a website, which is accessible for everyone in anywhere from the world. The whole website is designed in a  storytelling fashion that audiences will follow the exactly steps we took to reach the conclusion that we had. We believe this is a more persuasive way to let people really understand ideologies behind our work and also a more interesting way to express our idea at the same time.


Most visualizations are combinations of both interactive and static view. Most visualizations in Voyant, Gephi and Google Fusion Table have interactive features and allow audiences to explore by themselves. We chose to first post static snapshot of visualizations from Gephi and Voyant to let audiences have a general understanding of visualizations. Audiences can further play with them by clicking links behind snapshots.

All data we used, which are mostly speeches of the president Obama, come from this website. We first process all speeches to get metadata. Our metadata consists of locations, audiences and topics and time of all speeches. We think this could help us to analyze speeches from different dimensions, which enable us to perform more comprehensive analysis from different angles.


The first analysis we performed is word frequency analysis. This is done by Voyant. We first group data into different groups, classified by time, audiences and topics in specific. I took off some words from word clouds in order to give more representative results. Words such as ‘i’, ‘they’ and ‘god’ exist almost in all of his speeches and they do not have special meanings under different scenarios. An example of visualizations from Voyant looks like this:


Voyant Visualization of 2012

This is the word cloud for all speeches in 2012. We can see that one of the most distinguished words from it is “romney”. It makes sense since it was during midterm election and Romney was the strongest opponent at that time. At the right side of the visualization, we can also find the word “tax”. This also can be representative since Obama was proposing multiple reformation on taxation, such as increment of tax on high-income taxpayers and lower tax for startup companies and small businesses.


This is another visualization from Voyant. This word cloud contains all words under category ‘Military’, which are speeches that president Obama gave to military personnel. It is pretty self-explanatory that the most distinguish words are ‘iraq’ and ‘security’.In general, Voyant standalone cannot give us any useful conclusions. This is due to the nature of corpus. Word clouds only display words by frequency. There is no necessary correlation between the importance of a certain word and how many times it appears in corpus. Words like’ I’ mentioned above are not helping us to grasp the essence of speeches. Also, most words in word clouds are nouns. It is hard to find his attitudes from nouns. Verbs and Adjectives are more useful in this case and Voyant is not good at selecting words by their function. However, it is still helpful in some degree. Both of these visualizations prove that fact that he did use different sets of vocabularies in different situations. This further suggests that he is likely to use a different set of vocabularies to handle different scenarios.


Voyant Visualization for millitary personal


The next series of visualizations analyze the relationship between topic and location. Although once again, it is not providing direct prove of code switching, it shows us the fact that locations sometimes are specifically selected by president Obama and his team for certain topics. This is one of the visualizations:


Keywod classified by states

This visualization displays keywords of his speeches grouped by states. This visualization gives us some interesting result. For example, in states like Mississippi, Alabama.Georgia and South Carolina, where has relatively higher percentages of African American than those in other states. We can see that keywords are words such as ‘Hope’,’Change’ and ‘Affect’, which are all positive and all share one similar idea. Considering these locations, I do not think this is just a coincidence. I think president Obama and his team realize there are distinguished percentages of African American residents. He knows these words are exact the words that can excite African Americans and make them support him. From this example, we can see that code switching technique both depend on location and topics. Different locations have other concentrations of population. Such concentrations can be dominated by race, ethnic groups, class and etc. Different topics, at most of the times, are targeting specific group of the population. Combining both location and topics, different styles of speech are expected in order to satisfy specific groups of people.


The last visualization is done by Gephi:


This visualization consists of all words from speeches during five years(08-12). In this visualization, we can see that it look like annual rings of trees. In the center, where has most nodes condensed it, it means these words are used most frequently crossing five years. The concentration in the center suggests that there is a core set of vocabulary that used by president Obama in most speeches. In the outer area, we can see there are rings with different colors overlapped with each other. These are words appears mostly in a certain year but are not distributed evenly across five years. It is known from previous visualization from Voyant that president Obama focused on different topics each year. These words are most likely addressing these issues in particular. This is direct evidence of code switching. Those unique words that are only used in specific location, time and facing specific audiences can be best exemplified how code-switching is adopted by president Obama. We are definitely going to further investigate and test different visualizations in Gephi if we get a chance to do so.

In general, I think now it is fair to say president Obama is adopting code switching. There are several reasons when people choose to code switch, whether intentionally or not. One of the reasons is trying to fit in. We definitely can see this being demonstrated by the locations v.s. topics visualizations. We can see that president Obama is trying to fit in African American neighborhood by using different sets of vocabularies and selecting those topics can best bring concurrence from local audiences. Code switching can help president Obama and his team to better convey their thoughts to diverse audiences and attract voters from different backgrounds. Our project demonstrates this idea by multiple cases and examples and we hope our audience can also realize the fact that code switching technique is broadly used by president Obama during public speeches.


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