All linguists can tell you that there is a strong relationship between everything you say, each lexical choice, every intonation, inflection and even the code you use – be it formal or informal, and the way you feel. The things you say, reveal more about what you think and how you feel than you may realise. It can show how close you feel to a subject, whether you feel resentment or if you accept responsibility for your own actions. I’ll give some examples.
Conversation between a father and a daughter.
Father: “Your mother sent me a court summons.”
Daughter: “Don’t you mean your ex-wife?”
Although the ‘your mother’ may seem innocent – the fact that the pronoun your was used indicates a distancing by the father to the noun mother. Also the noun mother indicates a relationship between the daughter and the mother rather than a relationship between an ex-husband and ex-wife.
It’s an interesting lesson and sometimes when you have conversations with individuals you may leave feeling a sense of ‘that conversation hurt’ and you felt unfairly blamed but consciously nothing was overtly said. Your subconscious picked up the little cues.
Recently an acquaintance of mine sent the following message to me as a response to my asking if I had done something to offend them. “Not that you offended me. Just that our last conversation was a bit difficult for me. When you told me you were pregnant, you said how you were at a certain age now (same as me) and you were in a position of being settled and married … to have a baby. While as you know, those were all the reasons I had to get rid of mine i.e. as I have none of those things in my life. So when I got off the phone I cried for nearly two hours…. I do genuinely want you to feel happy about this great news and not hold back such thoughts/expressions like that. But the past two months have been hugely traumatic for me having to make that decision and also accepting that realistically I will never be able to have a child as I’ll never have that financial security or stability and yes I’m old now too. I am really so happy for you but I’m really sorry that I am at present too plagued by my own demons of having lost my own baby.”
My response: “…At some point you are going to have to accept you made that decision for specific reasons, you chose to terminate for some pretty good reasons – and hopefully you can forgive yourself. I know you ended your marriage for specific reasons as well, I hope you don’t regret your choices, ten years ago you were where I am now, married, stable, financially stable. It sounds like you are regretting your choices.Doesn’t make sense to live in that – past.Good luck with it.”
After I read her message I felt guilty about my happiness, about my life choices and about being so over the moon about being pregnant. Then I started to think why do I feel this way? What was it that was said that resulted in my negative emotional response. So I did a little forensic linguistics.
The first passage in bold, through the comparison, implies that the sender of the text feels resentment towards the receiver for being in the situation that they are in. Also there is a sense of jealousy or envy in which there is some indication that the receiver of the text should not be in the fortunate situation that they are in.
The second passage in bold suggests that the sender is wrapped up in their own emotions and subconscious pity parties. There is an overwhelming indication that if the sender isn’t happy then the receiver shouldn’t be happy. The positive:negative line, “I am really so happy for you but I’m really sorry that I am at present too plagued by my own demons of having lost my own baby,” expresses mixed emotions. The first part being I’m really so happy for you is then cancelled by the negative words and phrases such as ‘plagued,’ ‘my own demons,’ and ends with ‘having lost my own baby.’ The lexical choice of the vivid adjective of plagued acts to describe the sender’s feeling towards herself i.e. self pity or feeling sorry for oneself. Through the use of the word lost as opposed to the initial get rid off – distances the sender from the action of terminating the pregnancy, evoking sympathy, pity and sorrow.
The sender’s text implies specific negative personality traits:
The Comparison: comparing yourself to others shows that you feel inferior especially to the person you are comparing yourself with. It also reveals envy and jealousy of the things that the other person possesses.
Emotional Blackmail: when a person blames another person for how they feel instead of accepting responsibility for their own emotions; ‘You made me feel badly in our last conversation’ versus – ‘I felt badly after our last conversation.’
Giving Up/ Not trying: As long as you have life you have a chance to change to try to achieve – so saying I can never have or achieve shows lack of faith in oneself and reveals insecurity. Through linguistic analysis, critical conclusions can be drawn, effectively this individual feels inferior, is insecure and is reluctant to try, and maybe has just given up on living.
Since the sender doesn’t explicitly express resentment and the language used is very passive – it’s difficult to ascertain a hard and fast conclusion. Yet through linguistic analysis it is reasonable to presume that the sender is indeed resentful. Isn’t linguistics amazing?