"Do not listen to my pronouns"
, one of the creators of LIWC
, must use a lot of inclusive we
when he speaks, because I left his talk today liking him very much. Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) is a simple dictionary of hierarchical term categories like the following:
- positive emotions (e.g. accept, awesome, cheer)
- cognitive processes (e.g. should, thought, wonder, why)
- sex (e.g. horny, love, lust)
Many social scientists (including me) use LIWC to look for patterns in web/email content. Some of Pennebaker's more interesting findings:
- Half of our speech is comprised of function words: articles, prepositions, conjunctives, auxiliary verbs, pronouns. The other half is the meaty content. However, it's the function words that indicate our social connectedness. Cognitive words, like "I think this is true" indicate an awareness of the speaker that the listener may know better, a willingness to negotiate. Not surprisingly, women use more cognitive-process words than men.
- Different areas in the brain control our use of content and function words. People with damage to Broca's area use all content words, but they speak haltingly and sound emotionally distant. People with damage to Wernicke's area use function words almost exclusively. They speak quickly, warmly, and seem to connect with you. But they say nothing.
- There are two different kinds of we. The inclusive we, in which you can identify the referrent ("we the people") and the distancing we ("Well, son, we need to take out the trash, don't we?"). Mayor Guiliani, prior to 9/11, and King Lear in the first couple of acts both use the distancing we. Both switched to warmer, more inclusive we's after experiencing tragedy.
- People taking testosterone shots were not more likely to use aggressive, angry, manic, or sports-related words. But, they did use fewer pronouns referring to other people. As the hormone effect dissipated, they would begin using pronouns again. (Pennebaker said it was as if they looked around and realized, oh, there are other people here.)
- The word I is used more often by people with depression, people in low-status positions, and people seeking power.
Pennebaker has several interesting surveys
online. Don't miss the fine print.