Language News:

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.




About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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