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.