In this article, we would like to take a closer look at the two categories "I" and "We". These categories belong to the personal pronouns and show some interesting correlations to relevant characteristics like dominance or depression. In general, these two categories have been researched more than any other linguistic markers.
To get an overview of what research is available, we recommend our manual and Table 1. In principle - and this is already so trivial that it need not be called anything else - the first person singularly "I" is always used when a person speaks about himself. The first person plural "We" is used when a person speaks of himself as part of a group.
A glimpse of the research
In contrast, the findings made in connection with these categories are not so trivial. A particularly prominent finding, as it is frequently found, is the increased use of "I" in connection with depression and insecurity. The first person singular is thus used more often by depressed people. This change can be explained by a stronger focus on oneself and the feeling of being alone with one's problems. On the other hand, however, findings also suggest that honesty is associated with higher use of "I".
The findings for the first person plural show that especially dominant people and people high up in the hierarchy use "we" (instead of "I") more often. When a person sees himself as a representative of a group, he does not only think of himself but the group and naturally uses "we". An analysis of the use of personal pronouns in cockpit conversations showed just that: the captain used "we" most often. However, "we" is also used more often when it is a general way of expressing that one experiences oneself as part of a group (in this context, as part of a nation).
Does the Corona crisis strengthen the sense of team spirit?
With this knowledge in mind, we now take a look at the course of the use of the two categories in times of corona in the social network "Twitter". Again, as a reminder, we have been sampling tweets written in German with the hashtag #Corona, #Coronavirus, #Covid19 since February 27th. The thousands of tweets have been analyzed with the 100W text analysis. Since there was a risk of confusing the findings with retweets, we only considered each tweet once a day. Now to the evaluation.
It is noticeable that the use of "I" at the beginning of the survey period is subject to significant change. If the category was used more frequently at the beginning of the survey, it drops significantly soon after. The picture is different for the "We" category. Here the trend seems quite stable with a significant increase in the mid / end of March. How can these findings be explained? At the beginning of the survey, the focus seems to be more on the individual. This also makes sense, since at the beginning of the crisis nobody knew what significance it would have for their own lives. Many politicians also held back at first to get a picture of the situation for themselves.
The use of the first person singular decreased steadily until
on March 11th it was first exceeded by the "we" curve (which, by the way, did not change until the end). This change suggests a change in focus. While people were initially preoccupied with themselves, the perspective changed to a stronger group focus. The use of the first person plural aroun
d the time of the first corona speech (event 2 in the graph) of the chancellor has a preliminary peak. Not only was an increased share of "we" in Twitter observed.
Merkel's speech, which we also examined, also contained more "we" (3.7 of 100 words were "we" words) and than "I" (1.6 of 100 words were "I" words). Of course, as Chancellor, she is in a different role than the common Twitter authors, but the data show a clear trend to focus on the group. At the beginning of April, first person usage is declining plural again and is approaching the first-person curve singularly. As April progresses (from Merkel's speech, in which she urges patience [Event 5 in the graph], first person use increases again in plural. The discussions about the continuation of the lockdown measures, which are a social issue, could be responsible for this renewed increase.