Linguist’s poem

Every linguistic choice carries meaning precisely because to say anything at all means NOT saying a variety of other things. Thus, when a linguist listens, she hears:

what was said
what wasn’t
what you could have said but didn’t

Linguists are always paying attention to all of the above simultaneously, so it is never “just” about what you said, because this only carries social meaning because it was said instead of everything that wasn’t (or couldn’t or shouldn’t be) said.

This “way of seeing” is behind everything that that linguists do, including this recent article Um. . . Who Like Says You Know: Filler Word Use as a Function of Age, Gender, and Personality in the most recent Journal of Language and Social Psychology which has been receiving a great deal of media attention in the last weeks.

Even when a linguist hears an “um,” she asks herself “what could have here instead? And how would that have changed the meaning?”

And these WHATs, are just the beginning. Typically, once we have mapped these out, we turn to the WHO WHEN WHERE WHY (and of course more of the HOW) of communication.