Date Approved

2019

Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department

English Language and Literature

First Advisor

Eric Acton

Second Advisor

T. Daniel Seely

Third Advisor

Joseph Csicsila

Abstract

While Obamacare and Affordable Care Act refer to the same essential policy, the social implications of each term varies greatly. In this work I present these terms as naming strategies, a class of referentially synonymous terms differing only in their form and social/political meaning. Specifically, I conduct a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the distribution of Obamacare and Affordable Care Act in the 2016 presidential debates and platforms. Considering the form, history and connotations of each term, I explain the motivations behind their distributional differences. I find that Obamacare is the more frequent term overall, likely due to it's short and memorable nature. In debates, Republicans unanimously opt for Obamacare, in large part because it relates the legislation back to one of their political opponents, thus extending the negative attitude associated with Obama to the legislation. Affordable Care Act was the preferred term of Democrats, in part in an effort to resist the anti-Obama connotations of Obamacare and in part to preserve the official name of the Democratic policy. Obamacare was also used more frequently by journalists and moderators, likely motivated by the term's higher general frequency and therefore name recognition. Attitudes about the legislation varied by speaker group, with Republicans always attributing negative evaluativity to the legislation, while moderators typically index it neutrally and Democrats positively. There were exceptions to these general trends, which upon investigation were found to be largely motivated by contextual incentives.

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Linguistics Commons

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