Linguistic differences in explanation requests and their effects on the evaluation of explanations: the case of English and Turkish


How does language shape thought? In particular, do cross-linguistic differences in how explanations are requested affect how explanations are evaluated by speakers of different languages? To address this question we contrasted English with Turkish, which has three distinct words that correspond to “why?” in English. Through two corpus studies and an experimental study, we established that Turkish “why” questions tend to appear in different contexts and elicit different kinds of explanations: the “why” questions vary in the frequency with which they refer to agents and elicit teleological explanations. In an experimental study investigating whether this cross-linguistic difference affects how explanations are evaluated, we found that while English speakers displayed an overall preference for mechanistic explanations in evaluating the stimuli, Turkish speakers provided similar satisfaction ratings for mechanistic and teleological explanations. Our findings have implications for the cognitive science of explanation and for debates about language and thought.

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