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
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.”