On August 16, the LingEducator blog posted a link to news coverage of research on pronoun usage by social psychologist Dr. James W. Pennebaker. You may recall that Pennebaker’s interest in pronouns developed out of investigations of journaling in mental health treatments. Namely, he found that shifts in function words (like pronouns) correlated with changes in mental health status.
This week, Dr. Ben Zimmer, the refreshing replacement author for New York Times On Language column, published a book review of Pennebaker’s The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us. Zimmer, who has impeccable linguistic training, offers an excellent critique of Pennebaker’s work and an overview of other relevant research. Aimed at a lay audience, Zimmer explains why this research is important, and the concerns that fellow researchers have with (some of) Pennebaker’s conclusions.
More than anything, these concerns indicate that there is plenty of room for other studies of these phenomena. With any luck, the publicity Pennebaker is getting will help facilitate continued research in this area.