Language style affects long-term relationship strength and the compatibility of existing and would-be couples, suggests a new study.
Led by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, the study -- featured in the journal Psychological Science -- advances our understanding of how language influences romance.
The group compared people's use of "function words," which rarely carry any meaning on their own, but help build context in conversations.
Content words, such as nouns, adjectives and verbs, carry an explicit meaning. Function words, on the other hand, vary in their use and help provide reference points in conversations. For instance, words like "the," "that" and "of" can act as function words.
The researchers conducted two experiments to measure language similarities. One setup involved 40 speed dating sessions among college students, where duos' conversations were recorded and transcribed for analysis. The study's authors found that people who used function words similarly were more likely to express romantic interest in seeing one another in the future.
A second experiment measured the use of function words in the online chats of 86 couples over the span of 10 days. The researchers found that couples that used function words similarly were more likely to still be together later.
Three months after the data were collected, the team discovered that 76 percent of couples with similar language styles were still together compared to 53 percent of other couples that lacked similar styles of speech.
The findings suggest that romantic compatibility may not depend solely on saying the right things but rather whether they're said in a relatable way.
James Pennebaker, a coauthor of the study, comments on the natural tendency of these speech styles in a press release: "What's wonderful about this is we don't really make that decision; it just comes out of our mouths."
English, Marianne. 2011. "Language Style Predicts Romantic Chemistry". Discovery News. Posted: February 4, 2011. Available online: http://news.discovery.com/human/language-style-predicts-romantic-chemistry.html