TED Does Linguistics: Stephen Pinker
In this TED talk, experimental psychologist Stephen Pinker shows what our language habits reveal about our thoughts.
Overall, a great introduction to the complexities of linguistics. In particular, the second half is a great summary of “phatic communication”. This is speech that transmits important social cues.
Our favourite example from the talk: If you could pass the guacamole, that would be awesome.
Phrasing requests this way lets both parties leave without feeling insulted, while establishing an equal relationship.
We’re particularly interested in this at Verbal Identity, because it’s a key element of brand tone of voice. If you don’t account for it when the brand speaks, you’ll risk alienating customers.
But Pinker oversimplifies the way that our language reflects ancient habits of motion (e.g., you give something to someone, you move it towards them, or you move forward in time).
Undoubtedly true. But the rules aren’t universal. The Ancient Greeks gave gifts for people, not to them. The Peruvian Aymara say we move backwards through time. And it isn’t necessarily universal within a language.
We’re interested in this too at Verbal Identity. When we use text analytics to review consumer language, we determine the underlying “habits”. Then we use our stable of highly talented copywriters to design brand language that captures consumer thought.