The Language of Language

What do people unconsciously communicate through things such as intonation, accent and phrasing?  And is it really possible to detect a lie?

Well, that is exactly what computer science professor and expert in spoken language, Julia Hirschberg, is setting out to examine.  Things to take into consideration, according to Hirschberg, “How do people convey that it’s another person’s turn to speak? What do people mean when they say ‘okay’? There are so many different ways it’s used.”

Reported on PHYSORG.COM Hirschberg is working with Barnard psychologist, Michelle Levine and Andrew Rosenberg on her current research project that was funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to study deception in speech across cultures.

In 2003 Hirschberg began her work with deception in speech, which is one of the largest collections of such data partly because, as she purports, it is so difficult to collect real lies in situations where the truth is known.

“The best liars are the people who tell the truth most of the time,” said Hirschberg, who received her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania.  This year, she received the International Speech Communication Association’s Medal for Scientific Achievement as well as the James A. Flanagan Award for Speech and Audio Processing from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

She hopes that her research will make great strides in the fields of security such as deception detection and language development.

What are your thoughts on this type of research? Do you think it is important to be able to delineate the signs of deceptions on a regular basis, or should such research findings be kept for science and security fields?  Could such research findings possibly impede our social relationships?

One response to “The Language of Language”

  1. Keith D. says:

    I think that whether or not this type of research might impede our social relationships depends entirely on the ignorance of those employing its findings.

    If you were to give the average person on the street a device which could accurately detect deception at a 95% or better accuracy rate, then as a whole, it would ruin relationships. Not because of the device itself, or because of a deficiency in the relationships, but because of the shock at how frequent deception occurs benignly in everyday life. Does the middle-aged housewife REALLY want to know if her outfit makes her look fat, or does she just want confirmation from her husband that he still loves her and that she’s perfectly adequate for his needs and desires? Or maybe she just needs a little ego boost because of some ill-thought-out comment from a checker at the grocery store.

    How much damage the results of this kind of research can do is totally dependent on the depth of our understanding of its meaning and place in our lives. If someone truly, deeply understands the way the relationships in their lives work, then the above device would have little impact on them other than maybe helping them make a few better choices.

    As always, it’s not the knowledge itself, but the ignorance surrounding that knowledge which poses the biggest threat.

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