The Development of Social Cognition Laboratory    

at The University of Chicago


Why We Judge Others by the Way They Talk - and the Costs of This Hidden Bias

An Amazon Best Science Book of 2020


A groundbreaking examination of how speech causes some of our

deepest social divides

— and how it can help us overcome them.

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 learning a new language; over time, your speech even changes to reflect your 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. Your accent alone can determine the economic opportunity or discrimination you 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.



is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. She holds degrees from Yale and Harvard, has written for the New York Times and other outlets, and was named a “Young Scientist” by the World Economic Forum—one of 50 scientists working to shape our future. She lives in Chicago.


We all attribute social meaning to language in subtle ways. As children grow up, they begin to pick up on cultural prejudices present in society –  including those against people who speak in what society considers non-standard dialects of a language. In this BBC reel, Katherine Kinzler explains how as listeners, we have power to positively shape how others communicate.


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


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up with a solid old-school Brooklyn accent. She displays no trace of it in recordings of her work as a young litigator, but today, one can hear shades of it in her speech on and off the court. Why?

Black English is often reviled as an indication of lower intelligence, and yet ever more, advertisers seek out voice-over artists with an identifiably “Black” sound. Why?

… Read More



“An articulate examination of an underrecognized aspect of human communication.” – Kirkus

In her persuasive first book, Professor Kinzler maintains that the way we speak, whether in a “foreign” accent, a “nonstandard” version of our own language, or a “high-status” one, affects both how we perceive the world and how we are perceived by others.

“Well-written and entertainingly told, Kinzler’s persuasive exploration of linguistic-based differences will awaken readers to potentially unrecognized biases.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Kinzler explores in this revelatory and thought-provoking debut the social assumptions people attach to accents and speaking styles, to sometimes devastating effect.


BOOK Q&A with Prof. Emily Oster of Brown University

Language, Bilingualism, Kids, etc…

“Language is personal.  The way you speak can give you insight into who you are and who other people are too.  It can cause people to connect, but it can also cause them to discriminate and divide.  Yet, we aren’t always aware of the importance of language for our lives and the lives of others. “

…Read More 

BOOK Q&A with Deborah Kalb

Serbo-Croatian, Surprises, Subtle bias, and more…

“When you think about your identity – how you feel about being “you,” who you connect with, who you like, and who you don’t like – you may not think much about your language. But once you start to see how your identity relates to the way you speak, and how others speak, I think you’ll start seeing language everywhere.”

…Read More 

A fascinating introduction to the subtle yet powerful biases we have for accents. Highly recommended for anyone working for social justice or simply intrigued by how the mind works. 

Dolly Chugh

Jacob B. Melnick Term Professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, author of 'The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias'

A powerfully original, eye-opening book about the many ways we misjudge each other when we open our mouths to speak. A smart and delightful treat for you, youz, yins, and y’all.

Daniel Gilbert

Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, New York Times best-selling author of 'Stumbling on Happiness'

‘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

Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, 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

Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, New York Times best-selling author of 'Blindspot'

How You Say It takes readers on a personal and experimental journey that will be appealing and informative to a general audience and scientists alike. A gifted writer, Kinzler displays that rare ability to engage readers with many intricate, yet highly accessible, scientific details.

John Baugh

Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences, author of 'Black Street Speech' and 'Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice'

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

Professor of Economics at Brown University, 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

Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago, 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

Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, New York Times best-selling 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

Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University, Author of 'Against Empathy' and 'Just Babies'