The Secret Life of Pronouns

I asked my linguistics tutor what she’d be reading over Christmas.

She told me of James Pennebaker’s new book, The Secret Life of Pronouns.

Prof Pennebaker has been working for the last 30 years on looking at how the small function words we use unwittingly in everyday conversation reveal our mental disposition.

We all have a personal verbal identity, after all.

Like any good linguistics project, it should immediately lead to you being overtaken by a fear that anything – ANYTHING! – you say will reveal far more about yourself than you’d want, so that the only reasonable course of action is to shut down and say nothing.

In that spirit, I give you Prof Pennebaker’s own introduction to the newest book on my Christmas list. He should, of course, describe it far better than I can:

“Pronouns (such as I, you, they), articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, of, for), auxiliary verbs (is, am, have), and a handful of other common word categories are called function words. On their own, function words have very little meaning. In English, there are fewer than 500 function words yet they account for more than half of the words we speak, hear, and read every day. By analyzing their use, we begin to learn how speakers are connecting with their audiences, their friends, their conversational topics, and themselves.

The Secret Life of Pronouns is based on a large-scale research project that links natural language use to real world social and psychological processes. Using computerized text analyses on hundreds of thousands of letters, poems, books, blogs, Tweets, conversations, and other texts, it is possible to begin to read people’s hearts and minds in ways they can’t do themselves.”

-Taken from

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought my use of 1 “I” , 1 “My” and 2 “We”s in the first four sentences reveals.
If you haven’t got it yet, it’s worth putting on your Christmas list.