Archive for Psychology of language

Early Alzheimer's signs in Reagan's speech

Lawrence Altman, "Parsing Ronald Reagan’s Words for Early Signs of Alzheimer’s", NYT 3/30/2015:

Even before Ronald Reagan became the oldest elected president, his mental state was a political issue. His adversaries often suggested his penchant for contradictory statements, forgetting names and seeming absent-mindedness could be linked to dementia.  

In 1980, Mr. Reagan told me that he would resign the presidency if White House doctors found him mentally unfit. Years later, those doctors and key aides told me they had not detected any changes in his mental abilities while in office.  

Now a clever new analysis has found that during his two terms in office, subtle changes in Mr. Reagan’s speaking patterns linked to the onset of dementia were apparent years before doctors diagnosed his Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.

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Could this really be the end?

..of the nonsense about narcissism and pronoun counts? Probably not, but it should be.

I'm talking about Angela L. Carey,  Melanie S. Brucks, Albrecht CP Küfner, Nicholas S. Holtzman, Mitja D. Back, M. Brent Donnellan, James W. Pennebaker, and Matthias R. Mehl, "Narcissism and the use of personal pronouns revisited", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3/30/2015:

Among both laypersons and researchers, extensive use of first-person singular pronouns (i.e., I-talk) is considered a face-valid linguistic marker of narcissism. However, the assumed relation between narcissism and I-talk has yet to be subjected to a strong empirical test. Accordingly, we conducted a large-scale (N = 4,811), multisite (5 labs), multimeasure (5 narcissism measures) and dual-language (English and German) investigation to quantify how strongly narcissism is related to using more first-person singular pronouns across different theoretically relevant communication contexts (identity-related, personal, impersonal, private, public, and stream-of-consciousness tasks). Overall (r = .02, 95% CI [−.02, .04]) and within the sampled contexts, narcissism was unrelated to use of first-person singular pronouns (total, subjective, objective, and possessive). This consistent near-zero effect has important implications for making inferences about narcissism from pronoun use and prompts questions about why I-talk tends to be strongly perceived as an indicator of narcissism in the absence of an underlying actual association between the 2 variables.

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Your tension has been exterminated

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Linguistic dominance in House of Cards

You may have seen "The Ascent: Political Destiny and the Makings of a First Couple", now featured on the e-front-cover of The Atlantic magazine:

If you click on the link, the top left of the resulting page bears a little tag telling you that you're reading "sponsored content" — and if you mouseover that tag, you'll learn that

This content was created by Atlantic Re:think, The Atlantic's creative marketing group, and made possible by our Sponsor. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic's editorial staff.

One piece of that "The Ascent" page, down at the bottom under the heading "Frank and Claire: Patterns of Power", presents a bit of computational psycholinguistics:

We can tell a lot about ourselves by the words we use. But not the big words. The small ones: you, we, I, me, can’t, don’t, won’t. In fact, if we pan back far enough, we can see broader traits, like dominance and submissiveness. Which is exactly what we did by analyzing all of Frank and Claire Underwood’s private dialogue throughout House of Cards Seasons 2-3, using a special language-processing software. The results were fascinating.

This post gives a bit of the background of that segment, including my own small role in its genesis. The main point is to prepare the ground for a discussion of the ideas involved, which I think are interesting and important; but maybe a description of the process will also be interesting.

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Effects of vocal fry on pitch perception

Earlier today, Jianjing Kuang pointed out to me something interesting and unexpected about the sounds in a LLOG post from last month, "Vocal creak and fry, exemplified", 2/7/2015.

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Boko Haram, Boca Raton, whatever

We were recently treated to lovely example of a "Fay-Cutler malapropism", that is, a speech-production error in which the speaker intends to say word X but actually comes out with word Y, where Y is typically similar to X in number of syllables, shares some sounds and even whole syllables, is the same part of speech, and so on.

Tracy Walsh, "GOP Congressman Mixes Up Boko Haram And Boca Raton", TPM 2/13/2015:

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) confused the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram with a mid-sized Florida city during an appearance Tuesday on CNN, the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Florida reported Wednesday.  

Gosar said that if the U.S. were to pay ransom to terrorists, then "every American citizen traveling abroad becomes a subject in regard for kidnapping and then the plight of how much money has been captivated in the Boca Raton group." 

On Friday, his office issued a news release making light of the gaffe, saying that the congressman "had been awake for almost 24 hours and had given many interviews that day."

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Mistress of orthodoxy

Nicole Perlroth, "New Study May Add to Skepticism Among Security Experts That North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack", NYT 12/24/2014:

It is also worth noting that other private security researchers say their own research backs up the government’s claims. CrowdStrike, a California security firm that has been tracking the same group that attacked Sony since 2006, believes they are located in North Korea and have been hacking targets in South Korea for years.  

But without more proof, skeptics are unlikely to simply demur to F.B.I. claims. “In the post-Watergate post-Snowden world, the USG can no longer simply say ‘trust us’,” Paul Rosenzweig, the Department of Homeland Security’s former deputy assistant secretary for policy, wrote on the Lawfare blog Wednesday. “Not with the U.S. public and not with other countries. Though the skepticism may not be warranted, it is real.”

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That mystery language was…

Last night's "Mystery Language" post has gotten 43 interesting and insightful comments.

The answer, revealed by Doug Marmion, of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies:

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Teenager found bed

Stan Carey writes "Here's a headline for you!":

"Mentally ill teenager held in police cell is found bed", BBC News Devon, 11/29/2014.

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On thee-yuh fillers uh and um

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Pre-filled-pause lengthening

It's well known that syllables and words are longer before silent pauses, other things equal.  It makes sense that syllables and words would also be longer before filled pauses (UH and UM), but I haven't seen this explicitly noted or quantified. For a course assignment, I recently prepared an R-accessible version of  Joe Picone's manually-corrected word alignments for the Switchboard corpus (done when he was at the Institute for Signal and Information Processing at Mississippi State) — and so for this morning's Breakfast Experiment™, I thought I'd take a quick look at pre-filled-pause lengthening.

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Buzzfeed linguistics, presidential pronouns, and narcissism revisited

John Templon, "No, Obama’s Pronouns Don’t Make Him A Narcissist", BuzzFeed News 10/19/2014:

Conservative commentators are fond of pointing to Barack Obama’s excessive use of the word “I” as evidence of the president’s narcissism. (“For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon,” Charles Krauthammer complained recently.) But there’s one tiny problem with this line of reasoning. If you’re counting pronouns, Obama is maybe the least narcissistic president since 1945.

BuzzFeed News analyzed more than 2,000 presidential news conferences since 1929, looking for usage of first-person singular pronouns — “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” and “myself.” Just 2.5 percent of Obama’s total news-conference words fell into this category. Only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt used them less often.

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Inches

The headline above this page at TheHill.com says Warren inches away from Obama. And Bob Ayers, who pointed it out to me, was surprised that anyone would judge Elizabeth Warren to be that close to Obama on the issues, since they disagree quite a bit. I agree with Bob: I also read the sentence that way (the wrong way) at first. But if you read the text you soon see that they must have meant inches as a 3rd-person-singular verb, not a plural noun, and that reverses the key entailment. She isn't a mere few inches away from the president; she is edging away from him.

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