I / we/ you

I’ve been working with the pronouns that people use on talks, and what sorts of things tend to be associated with each.

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I is often used when talking about the procedure of the talk itself; what’s going to be explained and how, what name a certain item is going to be given, summarising. It appears most at the beginning and end of a talk.

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You is often used when talking about the existence of a particular operation or an operation in the abstract, in which case the sentence might run “there’s an operation in which you take the direct summand…”. It’s also used when answering questions. It can refer to an abstract you, as in an instruction, or a person in the room, “I’ll show you…”.

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We crops up a lot, and interestingly. It’s used when demonstrating a particular property with examples, “we manipulate this…”, and to establish something, “we have the following theorem.” There’s the ‘we’ of the mathematical community and the ‘we’ of the people in the room.

One speaker holds a hypothetical Q&A with herself as a rhetorical device to establish certain ideas. She introduces them by saying, “you might wonder…” and then goes on to establish the answer by saying “well, what we can do is….”

‘Seeing’ certain aspects of a problem is associated with both ‘you’ and ‘we’. I’m still unpicking that one.

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