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Saturday, July 13, 2013

The other day I was amusing myself by reading The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker, a book (to quote the book's web page) that is "based on a large-scale research project that links natural language use to real world social and psychological processes. Using computerized text analyses on hundreds and thousands of letters, poems, books, blogs, Tweets, conversations, and other texts, it is possible to begin to read people's hearts and minds in ways they can't do themselves."

I find the whole idea fascinating, though reading the book reminded me of how little I know about the labeling of verbs, say, not to mention how little thought I've given to "function words," which Pennebaker defines as pronouns, articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, and a few other language bits and pieces.

(I mean, there, that I've thought a whole lot about pronouns, obviously, being a memoirist and such. But I have not thought of pronouns as "function words.")

Among other things, the book looks at forgettable words, the words of sex and power, the words of liars, and the words of love. He gives his readers exercises and I'll share one here. I haven't done it myself yet—afraid of what I will find out. But I share it with you, and hope that you'll let me know what you find out. (Look at all the non-I words in that last sentence. I think I've just rendered myself an overly self-impressed human being.)

Look at the last ten e-mails that you sent to someone and compare them with the last ten they sent you. Calculate the percentage of I-words each of you used. If you have a great deal of time, you can do the same with the you- and we-words that you both used as well. Statistically, I-words are the most trustworthy. Here's the rule: The person who uses fewer I-words is the person who is higher in the social hierarchy. If the two of you are about the same in I-word usage, you probably have an equal relationship.


patti.mallett_pp said...

Very interesting! Will check it out. (Often just skip the "I" and move on into the sentence. That habit probably throws me out of the mathematical equation business.)

Pens/Pencils in Mugs = The BEST!!! (There are several around here.)

Hope you are still feeling relief from the pain. xo

Unknown said...

I find this really interesting. Personally, I try very hard not to use too many I words. Nothing to do with social hierarchy though, only because someone once told me that it was self-centered!

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