The future of conversations

Statistics and linguistics improve the way we speak


From rural to urban lifestyle, the constant change in style and medium of language invokes a certain effect on content, which influences our cultural values and leads us into the future.

By James Zhuang

As our society progresses onward and technology plays an increasingly prevalent role, a trend many people fear is the quantization of every behavior we make.

For all we know, strangers behind the computer screens of big bad corporations, or, in the words of Donald Trump, “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” are watching our every move, tracking everything from our behavior on social media to data points like age, sexual affiliation, relationship status and ethnicity.

But this quantization of behavior doesn’t have to be just for that baddie out to get you – we can use this information to learn and improve upon ourselves as well. Specifically, by using statistics and linguistics to track our speech, we can catch bad habits and learn to invoke more powerful, well-received words.

To see what this means in the real world, let’s take a look at two exemplary citizen leaders – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

A Bloomberg article found that during Trump’s successful primary debates, he tended to focus on the positive over the negative. After all, Trump likes to claim he will “make America great again,” since everything he does will be a “tremendous success.”

But during the first two general election debates, where Clinton put heavy pressure on Trump, his usage of positive words dropped while words like “disaster and “out of control” increased. And as his usage of negative words jumped from 18 negative emotion words per 1000 to 29 per 1000 during the first general debate, his ratings only fell lower.

On the other side of the aisle, Bloomberg found that as Clinton faced pressure, she started to increasingly focus on herself, using “me” words to talk about her own record instead of using “we” words to improve her already poor personal connection with voters.

As Clinton increasingly focused on “me” instead of “we” during the primaries, her race with Bernie Sanders became increasingly close.

By recognizing these patterns revealed from data analytics and statistics, these two candidates can improve their appeal to the electorate. And in this same manner, we can all benefit from the insights provided by linguistics in our own lives.

Tracking your own use of words, you can find how best to convince your parents to let you go to Winter Formal or get your teachers to let you off the hook for missing an assignment.

Ultimately, technology will play an increasingly integral role in our lives, and it’s up to us to embrace the change and take full advantage of it.