Tag Archives: language

Personal Pronouns as Relationship and Company Indicators

The per­son­al pro­nouns used by couples dur­ing “con­flict­ive mar­it­al inter­ac­tions” are reli­able indic­at­ors of rela­tion­ship qual­ity and mar­it­al sat­is­fac­tion, accord­ing to a study track­ing 154 couples over 23 years. The study showed that We-words’ (our, we, etc.) were indic­at­ive of a more pos­it­ive rela­tion­ship than ‘Me- and You-words’ (I, you, etc.) (doi).

Using We-ness lan­guage implies a shared iden­ti­fic­a­tion between spouses, even when the con­ver­sa­tion is focused on an area of con­flict. Con­sist­ent with this, We-ness was asso­ci­ated with more pos­it­ive and less neg­at­ive emo­tion beha­vi­ors and with lower car­di­ovas­cu­lar arous­al. In con­trast, Sep­ar­ate­ness lan­guage implies a great­er sense of inde­pend­ence and dis­tance in the rela­tion­ship. Com­pared with We-ness, Sep­ar­ate­ness was asso­ci­ated with a very dif­fer­ent set of mar­it­al qual­it­ies includ­ing more neg­at­ive emo­tion­al beha­vi­or and great­er mar­it­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

Sim­il­arly, the per­son­al pro­nouns used by CEOs in their annu­al share­hold­er let­ters provide a use­ful way of pre­dict­ing future com­pany performance. No doubt gleaned from the Ritten­house Rank­ings Candor Sur­vey, this is from Geoff Colvin’s book, Tal­ent is Over­rated:

Laura Ritten­house, an unusu­al type of fin­an­cial ana­lyst, counts the num­ber of times the word “I” occurs in annu­al let­ters to share­hold­ers from cor­por­ate CEOs, con­tend­ing that this and oth­er evid­ence in the let­ters helps pre­dict com­pany per­form­ance (basic find­ing: Ego­ma­ni­acs are bad news).

via Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree (1 2)

The Intricacies and Joys of Arabic

I ima­gine that most people with a passing interest in lin­guist­ics read Maciej CegÅ‚owski’s short essay in praise of the Arab­ic lan­guage when it was ‘redis­covered’ by pop­u­lar social net­works a few months ago.

As one who has stud­ied Arab­ic (albeit MSA and only for nine months or so), the essay brought back fond memor­ies of strug­gling to com­pre­hend the strange-yet-won­der­ful intric­a­cies of the Arab­ic lan­guage. Here are just a few the ways that Arab­ic “twists healthy minds”, accord­ing to CegÅ‚owski:

  • The Root/Pattern Sys­tem: Nearly all Arab­ic words con­sist of a three-con­son­ant root slot­ted into a pat­tern of vow­els and help­er con­son­ants.
  • Broken Plur­als: Most of the time to make a plur­al you have to change the struc­ture of the word quite dra­mat­ic­ally.
  • The Writ­ing Sys­tem: The Arab­ic writ­ing sys­tem is exot­ic look­ing but easy to learn, which is a rare com­bin­a­tion.
  • Dual: Arab­ic has a gram­mat­ic­al dual — a spe­cial form for talk­ing about two of some­thing.
  • The Fem­in­ine Plur­al: Form­al Arab­ic dis­tin­guishes between groups com­posed entirely of women and groups that con­tain one or more men.
  • Crazy Agree­ment Rules: e.g. [Maciej’s] abso­lute favor­ite is that all non-human plur­als are gram­mat­ic­ally fem­in­ine sin­gu­lar
  • Funky Num­bers: Ù© Ù¨ Ù§ Ù¦ Ù¥ Ù¤ Ù£ Ù¢ Ù¡ – The names of the num­bers come with truly ter­ri­fy­ing agree­ment rules, like “if the num­ber is great­er than three but less than elev­en, it must take the oppos­ite gender of the noun that it mod­i­fies”.
  • Diglos­sia: This is where it really helps to love lan­guage study.

Words to Be Aware Of

Wish. Try. Should. Deserve. These are four words that “lend them­selves to a cer­tain self-decep­tion”, says Dav­id Cain of Raptitude, and when you catch your­self using them you should take note, fig­ure out how the word is being used, and maybe try to change your per­spect­ive.

Why? Because, Cain says, these are ‘red flag’ words that often indic­ate that we’re being “pre­sump­tu­ous, simple-minded, or sneaky”. On using wish:

Not only is it use­less for chan­ging the cir­cum­stances, but it rein­forces the myth to which I’ve moment­ar­ily fallen prey: that my hap­pi­ness is depend­ent on my cir­cum­stances only and has noth­ing to do with my atti­tude. It’s a bit­ter little plea that life isn’t what I want it to be in this par­tic­u­lar moment, and a dead giveaway that I’m not pre­pared to do any­thing about it right now.

Wish­ing is a des­per­ate, self-defens­ive beha­vi­or. It gives you a little hit of relief from a real­ity you don’t want to deal with, but it sure doesn’t move things along.

Of course, in those moments, I’m too con­sumed by my fantas­ies to see that my atti­tude is usu­ally the biggest and most damning fea­ture of the present cir­cum­stances. If my atti­tude sucks, the cir­cum­stances suck. But acknow­ledging that would mean I have to be respons­ible for it, and it’s easi­er to instead wish for the cav­alry to appear on the hori­zon and save me.

There are obvi­ously prob­lems with this line of reas­on­ing (and Cain dis­cusses some of these in the post com­ments), but I like this gen­er­al idea and feel that we could all add a word or two to this list.

via The Browser

Congruent Conflations in a Thumbnail

I’ve been going ape-wild for con­gru­ent con­fla­tions lately and for good reas­on: they’re the most fun I’ve had with word­play for a long time and I find they ring off the tongue nicely. Hope­fully you’ll cut me a bone if I indulge a little more, as with just a couple more examples you will no-doubt be able to put the dots togeth­er.

Oh, OK, I won’t skirt around the bush any longer; it’s time to let the bean out of the bag with the help of Conflations.com’s intro­duc­tion to con­gru­ent and incon­gru­ent con­fla­tions (and the accom­pa­ny­ing lists there­of):

Simply put, a con­fla­tion is an amal­gam­a­tion of two dif­fer­ent expres­sions. In most cases, the com­bin­a­tion res­ults in a new expres­sion that makes little sense lit­er­ally, but clearly expresses an idea because it ref­er­ences well-known idioms. All con­fla­tions fit into one of two major categories: Con­gru­ent Con­fla­tions & Incon­gru­ent Con­fla­tions. Con­gru­ent Con­fla­tions are the more ideal (and more sought-after) examples of the concept. These occur when the two root expres­sions basic­ally reflect the same thought. For example, “Look who’s call­ing the kettle black” can be formed using the root expres­sions “Look who’s talk­ing” & “The pot is call­ing the kettle black.” These root expres­sions really mean the same thing—they are both a friendly way to point out hypo­crit­ic­al beha­viour. Of course, without ref­er­ence to a pot (which is just as black as a kettle), “Look who’s call­ing the kettle black” does not dir­ectly imply any­thing. Yet the implic­a­tion is almost auto­mat­ic­ally under­stood because the con­fla­tion clearly refers to two known idioms.

Incon­gru­ent Con­fla­tion occurs when the root expres­sions do not mean the same thing, but share a com­mon word or theme.

Con­gru­ent example: “Know-it-pants” from the root expres­sions “Know-it-all” and “Smarty-pants”.

Incon­gru­ent example: “A wild her­ring” from the root expres­sions “A wild goose chase” and “A red her­ring”.

via @siibo

The Numbers in Our Words: Words of Estimative Probability

Toward the end of this month I will almost cer­tainly post the tra­di­tion­al Lone Gun­man Year in Review post. Exactly how likely am I to do this? Am I able to quanti­fy the prob­ab­il­ity that I’ll do this? By using the phrase “almost cer­tainly”, I already have.

To provide unam­bigu­ous, quant­it­at­ive odds of an event occur­ring based solely on word choice, the “fath­er of intel­li­gence ana­lys­is”, Sher­man Kent, developed and defined the Words of Estim­at­ive Prob­ab­il­ity (WEPs): words and phrases we use to sug­gest prob­ab­il­ity and the actu­al numer­ic­al prob­ab­il­ity range to accom­pany each.

Kent’s idea has had a mixed recep­tion in the intel­li­gence com­munity and the dis­reg­ard­ing of the prac­tice has been blamed, in part, for the intel­li­gence fail­ings that lead to 9/11.

The words by decreas­ing prob­ab­il­ity:

  • Cer­tain: 100%
  • Almost Cer­tain: 93% ± 6%
  • Prob­able: 75% ± 12%
  • Chances About Even: 50% ± 10%
  • Prob­ably Not: 30% ± 10%
  • Almost Cer­tainly Not: 7% ± 5%
  • Impossible: 0%

The prac­tice has also gained some advoc­ates in medi­cine, with the fol­low­ing list of defin­i­tions formed:

  • Likely: Expec­ted to hap­pen to more than 50% of sub­jects
  • Fre­quent: Will prob­ably hap­pen to 10–50% of sub­jects
  • Occa­sion­al: Will hap­pen to 1–10% of sub­jects
  • Rare: Will hap­pen to less than 1% of sub­jects

It would be nice if there were such defin­i­tions for the many oth­er ambigu­ous words we use daily.