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Analyzing “Text” Versus Analyzing “Language”: The Confidence of Linguistic Analysis



By Nichole Clinkinbeard

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with a colleague about truly enjoying what we do. Mainly our conversation focused understanding what makes people tick, examining the nuances in their language, uncovering their reality. The ability to do this effectively is because of our linguistic training … countless hours of training in linguistics, years of experience conducting linguistic analysis in the field of marketing research.

We believe that the way we here at Quester approach analysis is very different than some other approaches. Sure we are identifying key ideas. But we are also taking the thought process a step further and really evaluating “how” people are talking about those key ideas. It is the difference between analyzing “text” and analyzing “language”. For example, this gives us a sense of issues like how connected someone is to an idea … are they using distancing language or conditional language that indicates they are not that into an idea, etc. It is this type of analysis that gives our clients confidence is what we are delivering.

I, as well as my colleagues, truly believe in the value of linguistics. Other people may be familiar with the term, but do not exactly understand the full value linguistics holds in marketing research.

So, I thought I would blog about this exact topic … Linguistics in Marketing Research. So two key pieces to help set context:

  1. Linguistics is the study of language.
  2. Semiotics is a sub-field of linguistics and in part, is the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.

I will spare you the full details surrounding semiotics this time around.

We utilize linguistic and semiotic analysis that focuses on the language people use to talk about issues operating in decision making. Understanding an individual’s personal point of view is necessary to understand and use to affect people’s behavior.

Each of us, when we get an idea, uses a word(s) that represent that idea in our minds. However, that word may not mean the same thing or the same idea to someone else.

I will give you an example … and interesting one … Jury Selection. When the lawyer said to the jury, “I represent the XYZ Corporation and we began marketing that product to the public in 1992,” the lawyer knew what she intended to communicate.

But, analyzing the words used by the lawyer against language usage by potential jurors yielded a different meaning for those words.

To that audience, “corporation” meant a “large, cold, inhuman, unfeeling, uncaring entity.” And “marketing” meant “to manipulate or position.”

What the jurors would hear was, “I represent a large, cold, inhuman, unfeeling, uncaring entity that began manipulating the public in 1972.”

Semiotic analysis of the audience’s usage of language gives you a precise understanding of what message the audience is “walking away with” before your message is delivered. With this information, you can decide to use different words; hopefully, words that will convey the message in the audience’s words.

At the end of the day, linguistic analysis is not only a description of what was said (reactions), but also an understanding of the meaning and the motivational capabilities of information (whether it has personal relevance and drives behavior or only has intellectual appeal) but also an understanding of respondents’ meaning, motivation, and decision-making criteria … and isn’t this the core of marketing research?

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One response to “Analyzing “Text” Versus Analyzing “Language”: The Confidence of Linguistic Analysis

  1. Thanks for your piece, Nicole! Resonates! What is understood vs. what we say is so crucial in all pieces of communication and messaging. It gets complex in a country like India where language and linguistic diversity is the norm. We were trying to understand meanings of 4 key word, translated in 9 state languages, meant. In one state, “professional” was “selfish”. Much like “corporation”…

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Nichole Clinkinbeard

Nichole Clinkinbeard

Director of Strategic Insights, Quester