Rasmussen, A. S. (2012). Assessing interpreter intercultural sensitivity (Order No. 3531415). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1151843604). Retrieved from
Is agency a straightforward and universal feature of human experience? Or is the construction of agency (including attention to and memory for people involved in events) guided by patterns in culture? In this paper we focus on one aspect of cultural experience: patterns in language. We examined English and Japanese speakers’ descriptions of intentional and accidental events. English and Japanese speakers described intentional events similarly, using mostly agentive language (e.g., “She broke the vase”). However, when it came to accidental events English speakers used more agentive language than did Japanese speakers. We then tested whether these different patterns found in language may also manifest in cross-cultural differences in attention and memory. Results from a non-linguistic memory task showed that English and Japanese speakers remembered the agents of intentional events equally well. However, English speakers remembered the agents of accidents better than did Japanese speakers, as predicted from patterns in language. Further, directly manipulating agency in language during another laboratory task changed people’s eye-witness memory, confirming a possible causal role for language. Patterns in one’s linguistic environment may promote and support how people instantiate agency in context. Keywords: culture, language, eye-witness memory, events, causality, agents, accident
English Quotes & Notes
Results of three experiments suggest that our eye-witness memories for events are influenced by patterns in culture. Such cultural differences may be instantiated and supported by patterns in the languages we speak. We find that speakers of different languages remember different things about the same events. Whether or not one is likely to remember who did what appears to pattern with how such events are normally described in one’s language community as well as on the patterns in one’s local linguistic environment.