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The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words…

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us

by James W. Pennebaker

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An interesting look at what subtext is provided by our choice of words. Ultimately the book is merely an academic exercise for those of us without multi-million dollar linguistic analysis software, but the learnings obtained from a linguistic analysis of many disparate sources including blogs and college admission essays, among other sources are fascinating to uncover. A little dry at times, it was an interesting enough subject to keep me pushing through to the end of the book. ( )
  Meggo | Oct 20, 2013 |
This book contains some Chaz Bono-level anecdotal evidence about the effects of testosterone on behavior. I kind of wanted to cry when I read the following (but maybe I've got too much naturally-occuring testosterone coursing through my biologically-female (or whatever) veins preventing me from crying, or using social pronouns).

And I quote:

"For a variety of reasons, both men and women occasionally undergo testosterone therapy, whereby they are given periodic injections of the hormone. What would happen to their language during times when their testosterone levels were high versus when they were low? Through an odd series of events, I was able to answer the question." (57)

How does Pennebaker answer this question? He looks at the writing of two people: one 28yo transguy taking T to transition and one 60yo non-trans guy taking T to"restore his upper body strength" (58)

Now that's rigorous science, folks. Wait, though, there's more.

"...there was one fascinating and reliable difference--in social pronouns (including words like we, us, he, she, they, and them). As testosterone levels dropped, they used more social pronouns. Think what this means: Both GH and the anthropologist inject themselves with testosterone and they now focus on tasks, goals, events, and the occasional object--but not people." (58)

Is this really a RELIABLE sample? Two people?

"It is news because these language differences signal that men tend to talk and think about concrete objects and things in highly specific ways. They are naturally categorizing things... a man naturally categorize and assigns objects to spatial relations at rates higher than women."

Please can we go back to the 90s when people had heard of social construction of identity?

PS: The Gender Genie http://bookblog.net/gender/genie.php score for this review (minus quotations) is: Female Score: 54 Male Score: 111. Take that, Pennebaker.

( )
1 vote anderlawlor | Apr 9, 2013 |
I love linguistics. This book wasn't completely about that but rather the psychology of the words we use. This book is about what our words choices say about us, says about our age, gender, class, education or power level. Interesting stuff but most of it was said in the first two chapters. ( )
  Alanne | Mar 29, 2013 |
Author: James W. Pennebaker
Title: The Secret Life of Pronouns: What our Words Say about Us
Description: Pennebaker and his colleagues have developed computer analysis routines that analyze our words—our tweets, our writing, our conversations, the speeches of politicians, and so on. He found that what we have thought are telling clues to what someone says are not necessarily the most important indicators. The title refers to the use of personal pronouns, chiefly “I,” “you,” and “we,” which can hold some of the greatest influence in our speech.
Writing style: The book is pretty well written for an account of many academic studies (I liked it better than Ariely’s book, for example), but that’s still what it is. Again, the correlation of types of speech to what they indicated gets confusing by the end of the book.
Audience: Anyone with an interest in language and language use.
Major ideas: Unconscious indicators like use of pronouns, positive words, action words, and so on give away a lot. It’s probably asking too much for us to be able to always be conscious of these types of words in our own speech, or that of those with whom we are having a conversation, but he does provide a website that can analyze our tweets.
Wrap-up: This was an interesting read that made me much more aware of the subtle clues I give in my written and spoken communication. 3/5*. ( )
  gveach | Mar 24, 2013 |
It’s the little words that count: pronouns, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions. The author gives readers chapter and verse about how people reveal themselves in both their spoken and written communication. He and his students delve into emails, letters and longer form writing, with some interesting and revealing results.

I found it fascinating to learn that, although President Obama was accused of overusing the word “I” – an indicator his opponents said indicated arrogance -- the author analyzed transcripts from press conferences of presidents back to Truman. His finding? President Obama actually uses the I word less than any other post-World-War-II president.

According to The Secret Life of Pronouns, analyzing the seemingly unimportant words can help us figure out power relationships, romantic attachments, who’s lying and who’s telling the truth. This book was a fun read, enjoyable because of its rich detail and the author’s storytelling abilities. I believe it might take a second reading and careful note-taking to really make use of its underlying principles. The author also has a website that offers help in doing so, with online exercises. It’s http://www.secretlifeofpronouns.com ( )
  NewsieQ | Mar 2, 2013 |
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For you

and for us

and where we have been

and where we will go.
First words

Stop for a minute and think about your last conversation, e-mail, or text message. You think you said something about dinner plans, your laundry, a strategy for the next sales meeting. And you probably did. But at the same time,, you said much, much more. The precise words you used to communicate your message revealed more about you than you can imagine.
Chapter 1

Over 100,000 years ago, our ancestors began talking. About 5,000 years ago, humans started writing. In the last 150 years, we adopted everything from the telegraph, radio, and television to e-mail, text messages, blogs, and other social media. The ways we connect with one another may have changed but we still are compelled to communicate our ideas, experiences, and emotions to those around us.
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We spend our lives communicating. We put thoughts into words to connect with family and friends, to express our desires, and increasingly, to earn our livings. In our lifetimes, we’ve zoomed through new forms of communication technology, going from typewriters to IMs, tweets, and text messages. More and more words are generated with each passing day. Hiding in that deluge of language are amazing insights into who we are, how we think, and what we feel.

In The Secret Life of Pronouns, linguistic and social psychologist James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics—in essence, counting the frequency of words we use—to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Using innovative techniques and insightful surveys (including quizzes you can take yourself) Pennebaker X-rays everything from Craigslist advertisements and Twitter to the Federalist Papers andclassic literature to reveal how our words show more than we think.

You’ll learn why it’s bad when politicians use “we” instead of “I,” what Lady Gaga and William Butler Yeats have in common, and how Ebenezer Scrooge’s syntax hints at his self-deception and repressed emotion. Barack Obama, Sylvia Plath, and King Lear make cameo appearances as well in this sparkling romp through language—a must-read for fans of Deborah Tannen, George Lakoff, and Steven Pinker.
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Draws on groundbreaking research in computational linguistics to explain what language choices reveal about feelings, self-concept, and social intelligence, in a lighthearted treatise that also explores the language personalities of famous individuals.… (more)

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