My college alumni magazine had a really interesting piece about research being done on language, and whether thought drives language or vice versa. For a long time, scientists have thought that language expresses your thinking, but doesn't necessarily shape it.
But a cognitive scientist named Lyra Boroditsky is shaking that up a bit. Here's an excerpt from the article:
"In English," she says, moving her hand toward the cup, "if I knock this cup off the table, even accidentally, you would likely say, 'She broke the cup.'" However, in Japanese or Spanish, she explains, intent matters.Read the rest of it (it gets really interesting where she reveals that a Spanish speaker is less likely to remember key details about accidents--perhaps precisely because the language doesn't provide a structure for that).
If one deliberately knocks the cup, there is a verb form to indicate as much. But if the act were an accident, Boroditsky explains, a smile dancing across her lips as she translates from Spanish, the speaker would essentially say, "The cup broke itself."
The question is: Does the fact that one language tends to play the blame game while the other does not mean speakers of those languages think differently about what happened? If so, what might linguistic differences tell us about cognition, perception and memory—and with what implications for such perennial debates as the influence of nature versus nurture? Welcome to the intensely spirited academic debate on which Boroditsky has spent the last decade shining a bright new light.
So what might this have to do with fiction? Well, imagine that a character's expressions reveal the way she sees the world. Let's say she's someone who can't apologize or take responsibility for something. She might say, "The car crashed." That's a really basic example, of course--not to far from the cup example. But you could reveal all sorts of things about your character, the world you're building, and your metaphors and themes by playing with this idea. Have fun!