Linguistic features in depression: a meta-analysis

  • Katrine Bønneland Tølbøll Aarhus University
Keywords: Depression, Meta-analysis, First-person singular pronouns, Negative emotion words, Positive emotion words


Recent research on depression suggests that speech can reveal underlying processes in the mind of the depressed. This paper systematically reviews the literature on linguistic features in depression. A corpus of 26 papers investigating the relation between depression and one of the three linguistic features, first-person singular pronouns, positive emotion words, or negative emotion words, were analysed. Three meta-analyses were performed on the three linguistic features. The meta-analyses identify differences in first-person singular pronoun use, negative emotion word use, and positive emotion word use between depressed individuals and healthy controls (Cohen’s d of 0.44, 0.72 and -0.38). Furthermore, the meta-analyses identify correlations for severity of depression and first-person singular pronoun use, negative emotion word use, and positive emotion word use (Pearson’s r of 0.19, 0.12 and -0.21). All three linguistic features produced small to medium effect sizes thus suggesting a relation between the use of the linguistic features and depression. The effect was not moderated by age or type of task the respondents completed.

Author Biography

Katrine Bønneland Tølbøll, Aarhus University

Katrine Bønneland Tølbøll har en bachelor i Cognitive Science fra Aarhus Universitet. Katrine er specielt interesseret i depressions og dets påvirkning på sprogbrug.


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How to Cite
Tølbøll, K. (2019). Linguistic features in depression: a meta-analysis. Journal of Language Works - Sprogvidenskabeligt Studentertidsskrift, 4(2), 39-59. Retrieved from