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How You Say It summary

Katherine D. Kinzler

Why You Talk the Way You Do – and What It Says About You

4.2 (149 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

"How You Say It" by Katherine D. Kinzler explores the power of language and accents in shaping our perceptions and biases towards others. It provides insights into how we can become more aware of our own biases and overcome them to create a more inclusive society.

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    How You Say It
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    The way we speak is shaped by subtle social forces.

    Documentary filmmaker David Thorpe grew up deep in the heart of Bible Belt Texas. As a child, he was taught that homosexuality was a sin, so it took until college for him to come out as gay. This new sexual identity shocked his friends and family. But, they also noticed another change.

    After coming out, David spoke differently. His s’s were sharper and his vowels were longer. There was a lilt to his sentences. He had, in his own view, begun to “sound gay.” But, why? After all, coming out didn’t physically alter his vocal cords.

    Yet, the change happened just as it did for many other gay men. That’s because the way we speak isn’t always down to biology. In fact, our vocal inflections are more than just sounds, they’re part of our identity.

    The key message here is: The way we speak is shaped by subtle social forces.

    Humans naturally divide society into different social groups. We categorize each other by nationality, race, religion, sex, even by which sports team we support. Some of these qualities have huge social significance while others are more trivial. One category which is extremely important, but often overlooked, is something called linguistic groupings. That is, our different styles of speaking.

    The way we speak has a serious influence on our social lives. Of course, we tend to socialize with people who share the same language. But, it goes deeper. We also favor others with the same accent, inflection, or tone in their speech. And, when we join a social group, we often alter our way of talking to fit in.

    Throughout the 1980s, sociolinguist Penelope Eckert studied this phenomenon. She found that teenagers changed their pronunciation according to their social group. At one high school, she identified two social categories: jocks and burnouts. While each group came from the same background they nonetheless had different ways of speaking. Jocks would pronounce the meal we have at midday as lunch while burnouts would say it more like launch.

    These divisions appear across time as well. In the 1990s, American teens adopted upspeak, the typical Valley girl style in which every statement sounds like a question. Today, young people are more likely to have vocal fry, a low-pitched, gravely tone. In each case, older generations tend to look down on these speech patterns as annoying or unprofessional. But this habit just reflects people’s unconscious bias towards their own social groups.

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    What is How You Say It about?

    How You Say It (2020) examines the role that speech plays in structuring society. Through research and intelligent analysis, it shows how our accents, word choices, and other linguistic quirks become part of our identity and change how we see others.

    How You Say It Review

    How You Say It by Katherine D. Kinzler (2021) explores the power of language and its impact on our lives. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers fascinating insights into how our words can shape our perceptions and influence our interactions with others.
    • Provides real-life examples and scientific research to illustrate the importance of language in forming social connections and bridging cultural gaps.
    • Explores the nuances of language and how it affects our judgments, showcasing the complex interplay between communication and human behavior.

    Best quote from How You Say It

    Who we are as social actors and beings, where we fit in socially, and where we do not, depends on our language.

    —Katherine D. Kinzler
    example alt text

    Who should read How You Say It?

    • Social scientists wanting to learn more about language
    • Big talkers curious about the hidden meaning of their accents
    • Anyone interested in unpacking their unconscious biases

    About the Author

    Katherine D. Kinzler is professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, specializing in the relationship between language and socialization. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Quartz, and numerous academic journals.

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    How You Say It FAQs 

    What is the main message of How You Say It?

    The main message of How You Say It is that language and communication shape our social interactions and influence our lives.

    How long does it take to read How You Say It?

    The reading time for How You Say It varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is How You Say It a good book? Is it worth reading?

    How You Say It is a fascinating read that explores the power of language in our lives. It offers valuable insights and practical applications for better communication.

    Who is the author of How You Say It?

    The author of How You Say It is Katherine D. Kinzler.

    What to read after How You Say It?

    If you're wondering what to read next after How You Say It, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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