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 by learning a new language; over time, our speech even changes to reflect our 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. Someone’s accent alone can determine the economic opportunity or discrimination they 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.
An Amazon Best Science Book of 2020 “How You Say It makes a crisp but comprehensive case... that although our distaste for ways of speaking that differ from ours is baked into us, true civilization requires that we work against it as much as possible.”—John McWhorter, New York Times Book Review “Kinzler explores in this revelatory and thought-provoking debut the social assumptions people attach to accents and speaking styles, to sometimes devastating effect… Well-written and entertainingly told, Kinzler’s persuasive exploration of linguistic-based differences will awaken readers to potentially unrecognized biases.”—Publishers Weekly “An articulate examination of an underrecognized aspect of human communication.”—Kirkus Reviews “‘An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him / The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.’ In this timely and engaging book, Katherine Kinzler shows how Henry Higgins’s observation applies to all of us. She presents the fascinating new science of linguistic prejudice, much of it her own, and spells out the implications for education, parenting, and our understanding of one another.”—Steven Pinker, New York Times best-selling author of The Language Instinct and The Sense of Style "In the multifarious ways the sounds of language tumble out of our mouths, Katherine Kinzler brilliantly detects questions of identity, personality, and social relations. This book is for anybody who is intrigued by the uniquely human sounds of language—the subtle messages they convey and the impressions they conjure up."—Mahzarin R. Banaji, New York Times best-selling author of Blindspot "How You Say It is a fascinating look at all aspects of language, but especially how the way we talk shapes how people see us—and thus what challenges we face and what opportunities we get (or don't) in life. A must read for any social scientist, and any concerned citizen."—Emily Oster, New York Times best-selling author of Cribsheet and Expecting Better “A compelling journey into the science, and essence, of what it means to be human—that is, how we communicate with each other. How You Say It is an incredibly timely book, revealing the power of speech beyond words alone, and pushing us to confront our biases and to understand the biases of others. By learning to understand the nature and effect of verbal communication, we can help our world become more equitable, constructive, and positive for everyone. A highly recommended read for all of us!”—Dana Suskind, author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain "A fascinating book, How You Say It will intrigue you, surprise you, and maybe even provoke you—but above all else, it will make you think!"—Carol Dweck, author of Mindset “Katherine Kinzler is a phenomenon—one of the most brilliant young psychologists of her generation. She is a clear and lucid writer, a brave and creative scholar, and her discoveries about how language shapes the social world are truly groundbreaking.” —Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy and Just Babies —