The QWERTY-effect as a concept first appears in a study of Daniel Casasanto & Kyle Jasmin. In their research paper Casasanto and Jasmin (hereinafter C&J) argue that because of the keyboard’s asymmetrical shape (more letters on the left than on the right when using English, Spanish or Dutch keyboards) letter combinations that fall on the right side of the keyboard tend to be easier to type than those on the left. Therefore words dominated by right-side letters subtly gain favor in our mind and are regarded as more appealing.
What C&J say is that the position of the keys and the emotional valence of the words are related. This effect may be even stronger in case of words coined after the 60s.
Well, so much about theory.
The researchers went even further by suggesting that if people tend to favor the positive side of the keyboard it may influence parents when picking names for their babies.
Language Log “made mincemeat” of this theory and actually ripped the whole article and the QWERTY-effect apart practically questioning every single sentence while examining and statistically analyzing the data on the same corpora. They didn’t find any significant effects but they came up with lots of interesting questions like: why should the 60s be the dividing line for name giving tendencies? This phenomenon could be studied on a wider spectrum. The blog did exactly the same and found that the name preference discovered by C&J appears under different circumstances as well. This however, could be the reason for the popularity of certain names and not the QWERTY-effect.
Despite all this the authors (C&J) wanted to do a proper job and eventually they did find a relevant significant influence– although others were not so easily convinced. All in all it seems there must be something there, so this theory is well worth a mass or two.
Even if we don’t go as far as to say that QWERTY influences name giving trends it is remarkable that since the birth and rapid spread of the internet the way we communicate has dramatically changed. Language is no longer solely oral but more and more of our word production happens on our keyboards. Although the source– our thoughts– is still the same, the way of expression has considerably changed and now its great part is shifted to the keyboard.
The assumption that there is an influence here cannot be debated. What it effects and how is a difficult question to answer though. What I find fascinating however in Casasanto and Jasmin’s work is the part which says: to a certain extent the keyboard is shaping the meaning of the words. And I also have the impression that popular media sort of overlooks this fact. No matter how slight this effect that modifies semantic meaning might be and even if the emotional valence of the word itself – whether it has a negative or positive connotation– probably outweighs the QWERTY-induced associations, it’s presence is still a remarkable phenomenon.
That’s why we decided to experiment a little using a Hungarian keyboard– which is special in this case because more letters can be found on the right, fewer on the left, so the asymmetry shifts.
Should we find not more than a tiny little difference as well in reverse, one more piece of evidence could prove that the assumption is correct and the way keys are positioned does have an effect on the physical and consequently the psychological well-being. Which fact therefore will have an influence on the meaning of the words when we read, speak or listen. We have chosen to test the effect traceable while reading. Our findings will be reported in our next post.
For those who wish to lose themselves in the topic, here’s the link to the original article:
Here’s a short summary presented by WIRED: http://www.wired.com/2012/03/qwerty-effect-language/
Here’s the post of Language Log on the QWERTY-effect. The comments are worth reading too: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3829
Another post from Language Log on the name giving trends with neat little graphs showing their results: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12378
by Anna Régeni