Monday, September 19, 2011

The Secret Life of Pronouns

I just heard a radio interview with James W. Pennebaker, the writer of The Secret Life of Pronouns, and immediately, before even putting my groceries away, went to the website for his book to look at the various tests he offers.

I found virtually every statement he made to miss the mark as far as determining what our use of language, as analyzed in computer terms, says about us and how we communicate. There are a bunch of tests on his website, and I took the one that required the least amount of time. The test analyzes a chunk of text written by two people, and then determines the quality of the relationship that those two people have based on the compatibility of their language style. I put a chunk of text from this blog (to represent me, of course), and a chunk of text from my husband's blog into the analyzer, and the computer determined that we had little in common language-wise. Then I put the same chunk of text from my blog in with a different chunk of text from his blog, and the computer determined that we had a great deal in common language-wise.

I became skeptical when Pennebaker used a double "is" ("The thing is is . . ") multiple times in the course of his interview. Someone who does that repeatedly can not be very self aware when he speaks.

I just compared this blog post (minus this paragraph) with some prose from Pennebaker's website, and the computer analyzed it as .77 (the average is .68). Then I compared it to one of Michael's blog post. The computer gave that .81. Four points difference between me and a person I just heard speak on the radio, and me and my husband of nearly 27 years? I think that this method of analysis needs some serious work.

Now I'll put my groceries away.


Michael Leddy said...

Don’tcha mean our groceries?

I will have to try this later.

Elaine Fine said...

Actually, I believe that, under the circumstances, they're mine until they are put away. I went to the store, after all, and it's my responsibility to put the cold stuff away. Had we gone to the store, they would have been our groceries. Now that everything is put away, "they" are no longer groceries. Just stuff in the house that has magically become ours. Eventually some of those former groceries will become our dinner.

Anonymous said...

Penne baker might be a pasta cook. A specialist in the short, thick and diagonal, pasty, egged on and stressed through a form.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't actually analyze your relationship and communication skills with your partner. Also, written langugage is not the only manner in which you and your partner communicate. It is an acute test or example and results are only meant reflect the text you input.
In this case, the blog post you had written had more in common with what Pennebaker whad written that what your husband had written; as I said it is an acute test.
Also, it is strange to create some ad hominem argument against Pennebaker in an attempt to discredit his idea. This style of argument coming from a musician is especially interesting because you yourself know that there are people out there who probably understand music theory extrememly well but often mis-strike a note...
Just want you to better understand this "Secret life of pronouns", not a personal attack.