The Secret Life of Pronouns by James W. Pennebaker
What Our Words Say About Us

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Synopsis

We spend our lives communicating. In the last fifty years, we've zoomed through radically different forms of communication, from typewriters to tablet computers, text messages to tweets. We generate more and more words 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, social psychologist and language expert 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. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints.

Using innovative analytic techniques, Pennebaker X-rays everything from Craigslist advertisements to the Federalist Papers-or your own writing, in quizzes you can take yourself-to yield unexpected insights. Who would have predicted that the high school student who uses too many verbs in her college admissions essay is likely to make lower grades in college? Or that a world leader's use of pronouns could reliably presage whether he led his country into war? 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 are among the figures who make cameo appearances in this sprightly, surprising tour of what our words are saying-whether we mean them to or not.
 

About James W. Pennebaker

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James W. Pennebaker is the chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Writing to Heal and Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, which has been translated into a dozen languages. You can analyze your own language at his website, www.secretlifeofpronouns.com.
 
Published August 23, 2011 by Bloomsbury Press. 368 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Education & Reference, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Secret Life of Pronouns

Kirkus Reviews

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In addition to these varied language samples, Pennebaker investigates a wide range of situations and topics including trauma from war or abuse, social and gender inequity and relationships of power, as well as daily self-perception or self-deception.

Aug 16 2011 | Read Full Review of The Secret Life of Pronouns: ...

The New York Times

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A psychologist argues that pronouns, articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs and conjunctions reflect our interior lives.

Aug 26 2011 | Read Full Review of The Secret Life of Pronouns: ...

Publishers Weekly

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Deploying computer analyses of word-use frequency, he conducts an exercise in psychological and demographic profiling by means of verbal tell-tales: people who overuse articles, nouns, prepositions, and the word "we," for example, tend to be old, male, high-status, and cheerful, while people who ...

May 09 2011 | Read Full Review of The Secret Life of Pronouns: ...

The Wall Street Journal

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Mr. Pennebaker shows, for example, that someone is more likely to be lying if he says "Let me state clearly and without qualification" and more likely to be giving an opinion if he says: "There is absolutely no doubt that .

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The Wall Street Journal

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How inconspicuous words like 'we' and 'the' betray our emotions and affect our audience's perceptions.

Oct 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Secret Life of Pronouns: ...

Dallas News

Can a world leader’s avoidance of certain pronouns betray a desire to go to war?

Aug 19 2011 | Read Full Review of The Secret Life of Pronouns: ...

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