Leaving a Linguistic Footprint

An insight into people’s identity has been revealed as a result of a cache of 1.7m emails that were put out on the internet by US regulators.

In 2001 the US energy giant Enron, at the time the 7th largest company in the US and with 21,000 employees, collapsed and as part of the investigations staff emails were reviewed and ultimately put online. These provided a rare opportunity for linguistics experts and show how the phrasing of emails can reveal something about us and our position in an organization.

The analysis showed that men in senior positions tend to forgo greetings and get straight to the point whereas in emails to a group of 10 or more people tend to adopt a more informal grammatical approach.

David Wright,a senior lecturer in linguistics at Nottingham Trent University, has recently published a paper in which he says that he can identify people to within 80% accuracy based upon how they word their emails. Women are more likely to write “for”, “hi” and “thanks” whereas men will favour “more”, “I” and “towards”. Interestingly lawyers have a tendency to use “no” and “under” more frequently – have our clients noticed this I wonder?

In age of instant communication it is easy to dash off an email without thinking about how it reads or even how it is received. Whereas our forebears used to craft their letters with a mind to the possibility that they may be published (in a good way) perhaps one should take a moment to stop and think a little about one phrases an email; after all like the employees of you never know who might read it and where it might be published.

James Rann, 25 July 2017
CEO of Warren’s Law and Advocacy

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