Another pos­si­bil­ity was that lan­guage does shape the way we think, and that if you have dif­fer­ent metaphors you would in fact think about time dif­fer­ently. — cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Lera Borodit­sky

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS -

In as­sign­ing blame, English makes it easy to dis­tance one­self from an event. This falls un­der the con­cept of lin­guis­tic agency. To ex­plain this, Borodit­sky of­fered the in­fa­mous hunt­ing in­ci­dent in which Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney ac­ci­den­tally shot his friend Harry Whit­ting­ton. “It doesn’t take very long to shoot some­one in the face. It’s a split-sec­ond, rel­a­tively sim­ple event. But lan­guage al­lows us to cre­ate any num­ber of de­scrip­tors for what hap­pened. I can say, ‘Cheney shot Whit­ting­ton.’ I can say ‘Whit­ting­ton got shot’ and not in­clude Cheney. I can say ‘Whit­ting­ton got pep­pered pretty good,’ fo­cus­ing on the man­ner of the shoot­ing and the out­come. Cheney, tak­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity, said some­thing like, ‘Ul­ti­mately, I’m the guy that pulled the trig­ger that fired the round that hit Harry.’ Think about that sen­tence. We’re talk­ing about a split-sec­ond event that he’s made into a long chain of events that he hap­pened to be at one end of. I can use a sin­gle verb to say ‘I cured po­lio’ and I can also use three verbs to say ‘I shot my friend in the face.’ ”

The Turk­ish lan­guage draws fine dis­tinc­tions when it comes to is­sues of agency and wit­ness be­cause speak­ers must in­clude in the verb how they ac­quired their in­for­ma­tion. See­ing some­thing with your own eyes re­quires a dif­fer­ent verb form than some­thing you read or heard about. This con­cept is in­trigu­ing in the con­text of the cur­rent prob­lem of “fake news” in the United States, be­cause English speak­ers must choose from an as­sort­ment of words to dis­tin­guish be­tween some­thing that is true or false, first-hand or sec­ond-hand knowl­edge, etc. — if these dis­tinc­tions are made at all. Does the struc­ture of Turk­ish gram­mar pro­vide speak­ers with a more in­trin­sic ca­pac­ity for crit­i­cal thought than English does?

“I wish we knew the an­swer,” Borodit­sky said. “I tried to do re­search on this for many years but could never come up with a par­a­digm that would give me sta­ble re­sults I could trust.”

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