Wise words

Picture 010a1How does our speech reveal our level of intelligence? A person employing word with more syllables may seem more intelligent or may just be repeating the latest erudite catch phrase. People practiced in business presentation learn to use vague multi-syllabic words to sound as if they are making an important pronouncement on a topic. However, if you listen carefully you may uncover that they are frequently reiterating what people before them said, just replacing “fifty cent” words with their own “five-dollar” versions.

Simple words and phrases such as “but,” “except,” “otherwise,” and “even though,” in speech shows the grasp of nuances. The tendency to use this type of balancing words indicates a comprehension of more complex concepts. Student who say these words more frequently, also make better grades.

It is also interesting to see how the types of words used in writing predict academic achievement. Students in college who use a higher percentage of nouns and lower percentage of verbs and pronouns typically make higher grades. It doesn’t really seem to matter whether they are majoring in liberal arts, science or engineering. The use of a large number of concrete nouns reflects the student’s ability to sort and categorize and be specific about ideas. More pronouns were typically found in narrative or “story-telling” typed of writing. Interestingly the use of more concrete terms actually shows higher comprehension than the use of abstract words.

However don’t take too long wondering how people perceive your intelligence based on your use of conjunctions and nouns. Most people do not catch onto these cues. They were discovered by recording a series of snippets of peoples everyday speech or parsing the use of parts of speech in thousands of college essays. If you don’t speak enough in face to face conversation, people will assume you are not as intelligent. Slow speaking is often regarded as a sign of being slow-witted rather it is true of not.

Jessica Wapner, “He Counts Your Words (Even Those Pronouns)”, Biography, New York Times October 13, 2008.
Gareth Cook. The Secret Language Code: Psychologist James Pennebaker reveals the hidden meaning of pronouns, August 16, 2011
This entry was posted in communication, Group psychology, intelligence. Bookmark the permalink.

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