From “one of the most brilliant young psychologists of her generation” (Paul Bloom), a groundbreaking examination of how speech causes some of our deepest social divides—and how it can help us overcome them.
We gravitate toward people like us; it’s human nature. Race, class, and gender shape our social identities, and thus who we perceive as “like us” or “not like us”. But one overlooked factor can be even more powerful: the way we speak. As the pioneering psychologist Katherine Kinzler reveals in How You Say It, the way we talk is central to our social identity because our speech largely reflects the voices we heard as children. We can change how we speak to some extent, whether by “code-switching” between dialects or learning a new language; over time, your speech even changes to reflect your evolving social identity and aspirations. But for the most part, we are forever marked by our native tongue—and are hardwired to prejudge others by theirs, often with serious consequences. Your accent alone can determine the economic opportunity or discrimination you encounter in life, making speech one of the most urgent social-justice issues of our day. Our linguistic differences present challenges, Kinzler shows, but they also can be a force for good. Humans can benefit from being exposed to multiple languages —a paradox that should inspire us to master this ancient source of tribalism, and rethink the role that speech plays in our society.
About the Author
KATHERINE D. KINZLER, PhD, is a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. She holds degrees from Yale and Harvard, has written for the New York Times, and was recently named a “Young Scientist” by the World Economic Forum—one of 50 scientists under age 40 worldwide working to shape our future. She lives in Chicago.