Words Matter


Words Matter

DICTION Conference examines the language of institutions


At first glance, researchers visiting the Belo Center for New Media this week don't seem to have much in common.

They are traveling from across the world, and study an array of disciplines, including business and finance, politics, and media.

But they are united by a common belief: words matter.

Specifically, they've found that studying lexicon – the words someone chooses – leads to discoveries in a host of disciplines.

The international conference "Language of Intuitions: DICTION Studies" welcomes more than 50 scholars who have used a computer-aided text analysis software program named DICTION 6.0 to study the language of complex organizations.

"DICTION is a highly useful tool for tracking the words people use, often without realizing they're doing so. In many ways, people are their words, so DICTION shines a light on their basic natures," said Roderick P. Hart, dean of the College of Communication and creator of the software.

"It has been particularly gratifying that scholars from so many different disciplines – business, communication, political science, sociology – have found the program helpful in their research."

Participants will present more than 40 original studies on a variety of subjects in the context of human interaction.

Eventually, the research presented at the conference will lead to the publication of a book.

The DICTION software program draws on nearly 40 years of research. It uses a series of dictionaries to search a passage for five semantic features – activity, optimism, certainty, realism and commonality – including 35 sub-features built by users to gauge and draw rhetorical conclusions from comparisons between writings or speeches transcribed into text. The program can currently use up to 30 custom dictionaries built by a user. 

Using DICTION, scholars have written more than 150 books, articles, papers, and dissertations in the fields of psychology, sociology, communications, political science, linguistics, marketing, management, finance, and accounting.

For example, researchers using the DICTION program have found that:

  • Rather than "hope," Obama won the 2008 election by relying on realism and appealing to action to solve the nation's problems.
  • Firms using overly optimistic language are more likely to be sued than those issuing more measured reports.
  • Online adolescent blogs show a blurring of gender roles that may signal a new era of androgyny.  
  • Companies with high growth potential tend to use more pessimism in their SEC filings than in their press releases.

"The Language of Institutions: DICTION Studies" conference takes place Feb. 14-16.

For more information, contact: Lauren Phillips, 512-471-2182 or Nick Hundley, 512-471-7209