Archive for Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Language shifts could spell trouble

December 1, 1999

Which person's testimony is more likely to be untruthful?

No. 1 "I walked into the living room and turned on the TV. A man smashed his hand through the window and grabbed the money."

No. 2 "I walked into the living room and turned on the TV. A man smashes his hand through the window and grabs the money."

Don't trust No. 2. According to law enforcement agents trained in grammatical analysis of testimony, the shift from the past tense to the present tense could signal deception.

Using a technique called "statement analysis," investigators first determine the choices of tense, pronouns and nouns found in truthful statements. Any deviation from these norms, they believe, suggests the person may be lying.

With this in mind, can you tell which statement in each pair is more likely to be false?

1) A) "We met at the mall. We did some shopping. Then we each drove home." B) "I met my friends at the mall, did some shopping, and then I drove home."

2) A) "My wife and I went to a party, and, after dancing and eating, we left." B) "My wife and I went to a party, and, after dancing and eating, my wife and I left."

3) A) "My wife and I were walking along the cliff. Then Esther suddenly slipped over the edge." B) "My wife and I were walking along the cliff. Then my wife suddenly slipped over the edge."

ANSWERS:

1) A) Using "I" is the norm, so the use of "we" could indicate deception.

2) B) Once the husband has introduced his wife into the statement, "we" is the shortest way to communicate. His avoidance of "we" may indicate lack of harmony in the relationship, hence he may have harmed her.

3) A) Perpetrators find it hard to admit hurting a family member, hence the shift from "my wife" to "Esther" at the critical moment. Additionally, the husband's failure to introduce "Esther" to the reader as his wife, suggests an unstable relationship with her. Did he push her? Perhaps.

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