Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Love Function Word
August 3, 2011 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Love Function Word

Some people get hooked on animal attraction. All stance and glance and scent and posture, because when it comes to love, those base instincts can get you pretty far, maybe all the way. But is that any way to build a lasting relationship with that certain significant other? Surely there is more to the chemistry of our hearts than opposites that attract. Scientists are looking for answers (and I hope, by Cupid, not just for science either). Scientists are lovers too.

“Often overlooked in the behavioral and social sciences are the facts that couples actually talk with one another and that their conversations often serve as the basis of their attraction,” says Molly Ireland of Texas A&M on her team’s research on how potential couples sync their way to romance linguistically.

Language Style Matching (LSM) is the unconscious verbal coordination that allows scientists to measure the degree of conversation sync, which is usually undetectable to speakers and listeners, including researchers. But by focusing on function words, such as pronouns and articles, which are short, common, and require little thought by speaker or listener, researchers can begin to assess psychological matching irrespective of context, which constrains the selection of nouns and verbs in conversation.

“Perhaps because of their key role in social cognition, function words are robust markers of a variety of individual differences and social behaviors, ranging from leadership style to honesty.”

To test their hypothesis, scientists listened in on some meet-and-greets at a couple of speed dating events. Forty of these 4-minute dialogues were transcribed and analyzed to see if a high LSM score could predict romance. The researchers set the bar for romance pretty low, since all participants had to do was indicate an interest in seeing the other person again, and the matchmaking researchers would put the potential love birds in touch, and it counted as a romance. One-fisted lovers who were unreciprocated received a restraining order (just kidding) and were considered romance rejects. This is beginning to remind me too much of my own dating history, so back to science.

Separate LSM scores were initially calculated for each category using the following formula (prepositions are used in this example):
LSMpreps = 1 – [(│preps1 – preps2│)/(preps1 + preps2 + 0.0001)]’

OK. Sorry. Too much science. I was thinking about something else when I wrote that. All those romantic rejections… Sorry to drag you all into my private hell; I will recommit my life to scholarship once more. So…

The results of the study were as predicted. Couples who spoke the same LSM got together, and in a later study, too convoluted to explain here, stayed together. Question: Which goes first, the horse of language alignment or the carriage of mutual understanding?

This I tell you, brother, you can’t have one without the other. Ask the local gentry, and they will say it’s elementary, just like they say at A&M. It does something like this….


Bonus: Cat walks through frame

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