Not long ago, I invited you to be a part of a piece of research I’m conducting about what we learn from crime fiction. Before I go on, let me take a moment and thank those of you who participated for your willingness to get involved. It means a lot to me.
At the time, I promised I’d share my findings with you, and that’s what I’d like to do today. There’s plenty that remains to be done with this data, but here are just a few preliminary things I found.
Let’s start with a look at the 124 people who took part in the study. You. It turns out that I was quite right to believe that you’d be the perfect experts to help me with my research.
As you can see, the vast majority of those who participated in this study have been reading crime fiction for ten years or longer, and have read twenty or more crime novels in the past year. You’re experts. You’re well-educated, too, with most of you having a university degree or more.
It is worth noting that 82% of this group of participants were female. I’d like to replicate the study with more male participants, but even as the results are, they’re interesting.
What Were the Study Questions?
I was chiefly interested in what adults learn from reading crime fiction. In particular I wanted to know whether adults learn culture through idiom in crime fiction. So my questions were focused on what participants notice, remember and find interesting. I also asked a few questions about the relationship between culture and idiom.
What Were the Findings?
Here is just a sampling of the interesting results that I found. Let’s start with the question of whether adults notice and pay attention to culture and language in their crime fiction.
As you can see, crime fiction readers (at least those of you in this study) do pay a lot of attention to both cultural information and language use. A total of 99 participants (80%) said that they mostly pay attention to language or culture in their crime fiction. And as an aside, about 50% of this study’s participants said they were most curious to learn more about the culture of the place where a novel is set once they’ve read that novel.
What about idioms? It turns out that crime fiction fans notice idioms and dialect quite often.
A quick look at this chart shows clearly that the vast majority of people in this study (94%) always or sometimes notice it when characters use different dialects and idioms. In fact, I found that significantly more of you noticed these language aspects of the novels you read than some of the cultural aspects. That said though, there’s a significant relationship between noticing culture and noticing language and idiom. People who notice one do tend to notice the other.
Noticing is one thing. Learning is another. I was also interested in what participants have learned from what they’ve read.
As you see, most participants in this study (about 93%) have learned a lot or some things about other cultures.
If we look at the learning of idioms, we see a lot of learning there, too.
The majority of participants (67%) have learned many or some idioms. And as an aside, about half often or sometimes use those idioms in conversation.
What’s interesting here is that I also found a significant relationship (‘though not quite as statistically strong) between learning of culture and learning of idiom. In other words, learning culture and learning idiom are related.
To me, this makes a lot of sense. Research shows clearly (at least to me) that language and culture are inextricably related. So it’s logical that learning culture and learning language would be related as well.
So, back to the central question. Do adults learn culture through idiom in crime fiction? Certainly this data suggests that they learn both. It’s a bit less clear whether idiom is the most common means by which we learn culture, although I should point out that 67% of you good folks reported that your understanding of culture is increased at least somewhat when you learn idioms. And 77% reported that you see idioms as interesting ways to learn culture.
So my tentative answer to this question is that yes, crime fiction can be a very effective means to learn both culture and idiom, and perhaps culture through idiom. Thanks very much for your help with this research. I’m only just getting started, so I know I’ll be learning lots more from you!
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Eurythmics.