What do Lady Gaga and William Butler Yeats have in common?

The secret life of pronouns

First, the creepy part: this book is about computational linguistics, a new science using powerful computer programs to crunch words into dehumanized abstract spreadsheets.

Now, the warm and fuzzy part: The Secret Life of Pronouns, by social psychologist and author James Pennebaker, is written for laypersons and does a superb job making this esoteric science seem simple and logical. A review in the WSJ said it best, “”A good nonfiction book often feels like a new lens prescription: You marvel at suddenly being able to see what was always there.”

The author holds our hand as we walk into the sometimes Skinnerian world of word crunching, building a strong case that “style” and “function” words can be read like fingerprints.

Pennebaker caught my attention when he differed with the common analysis of President Obama’s bin Laden speech, and I immediately sought out his book.

I wanted to hate this book-and the theory, as I (incorrectly) saw it as an extension of structuralism. (I still have not forgiven Germany for structuralism or Stockhausen.)

But I loved this book—it revealed new avenues to consider language, and how the “how” is the “what”. (That’s the most Lewis Caroll statement I’ve ever typed.)

So what do Lady Gaga and William Butler Yeats have in common? Pennebaker’s analysis of Gaga’s tweets and Yeat’s poems points to both being depressed. (I didn’t need a Cray to tell me Yeat’s was depressed-read The Second Coming!)

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