Would I Lie to You?*

StudyNot 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.

Who Participated?

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.


What Participants Pay Attention To


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.


Participant Attention to Idiom and Dialect


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.


Learning of Culture


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.


Idioms Learned


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.


Filed under Uncategorized

32 responses to “Would I Lie to You?*

  1. Interesting stuff, Margot! I’m a pretty insular crime reader on the whole but like to cross the borders sometimes, and yes, in those circumstances I often find myself commenting on a ‘sense of place’, which of course involves the people, language and culture as much as, if not more than, physical description. Look forward to hearing more as your research continues…

    • Thanks, FictionFan. I’m glad you found this interesting. I’d suppose that a lot of readers (well, based on these data, anyway) want their stories to have a sense of place. They want to get a feel, as you say, for the culture and language and lifestyle, not just the physical setting. And that, I believe, influences what people look for and notice when they read. To add to that, I found that 91% of the participants in this study responded that it was ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ for their crime fiction to be culturally authentic. And 86% reported often or sometimes choosing a crime novel because it’s set in a different culture. I think this supports what you’re saying.

  2. Fascinating, Margot! It would be interesting to compare the results with those for other genres, too.

  3. Patti Abbott

    I think crime fiction has taken me to more places that literary novels have. That might be my failing but the things that remain the same in a genre across cultures make the differences easier to understand. Great survey.

    • Thanks, Patti. And I think you make a really interesting point. There are definitely some things that don’t change, no matter what culture is the setting for a given novel. And those things can make it easier to understand a story.

  4. Reading Crime fiction is great for vehicle for taking us to a “different place” If I could pronounce some of the names/places I have “visited” I think the info would stay with me longer…

  5. Kathy D.

    Very good survey and conclusions. I am one of those who will choose a book set outside of the U.S. so I can learn more about a country’s history and culture. I forced myself to informally do the Global Reading Challenge since it began so I’d have to go out of my comfort zone and go to places I’d never virtually visited before and read books by authors new to me.
    And then I google for historical and geographical information about the region and its people. Lately, much more known about Scotland and Wales, among other countries.

    • Thanks, Kathy. As you can see, you are far from the only one who takes an interest in books set in other cultures. And you’re by no means the only one who finds yourself looking up information about the places in the books you read. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  6. Margot: As one of the minority participants do sales of crime fiction reflect that same breakdown you had in gender?

    How far do you think you can extrapolate from your sample size?

    It was interesting. I do not know how you get a representative group of responders for crime fiction. You were weighted with the dedicated readers.

    I look forward to any more analysis you can put forward on the results.

    • You ask an interesting question, Bill, about getting a representative sample of people who read crime fiction (i.e. not just the dedicated readers). There are other places one can announce a study like this, such as libraries and bookshops. And the announcement did feed into my Goodreads page and Amazon author page. Those are ways to invite people who read, but don’t necessarily read a lot of crime fiction, know about the study. That’s an avenue I may explore a little further.
      As to book sales, I don’t have exact numbers. But I do know that women buy more fiction in general and more crime fiction in particular than do men. The numbers probably would look a little different to the results here, with less difference between the genders. But there is a difference in the larger population.
      I’ll definitely keep you updated as I get more deeply into what I found here.

  7. Margot, thank you for an informative and revealing survey. Crime fiction, I agree, tells you a lot about the culture and idiom in terms of language, setting, and lifestyle, though not necessarily about the characters themselves. I have read novels in general where I couldn’t connect the characters with the cultural and physical setting of the stories. It doesn’t bother me very much. When I’m reading crime fiction I’m usually focused on the lead characters, the good and the bad, and the way the mystery unfolds.

    • Thank you, Prashant. You make a very well-taken point about the difference between a cultural setting and the individual characters there. People are individuals who are impacted by many, many factors. Culture is definitely one of them, but it is hardly the only one. So it makes sense that you’d read stories in which the characters don’t necessarily seem as connected with the local culture.

  8. Margot, an interesting study. Crime fiction is fascinating and we can take a lot from it.

  9. Fascinating analysis, Margot. I’m with Caron in that I wonder what the study might reveal about other genres, too. Would romance fiction, for instance, yield similar results? For me one of the joys of a series character, and place, is going back to that place in each succeeding novel and leaning more about the culture and how the main character(s) relate to said culture and environment.

    • I really like that aspect of reading, too, Bryan. It allows me to get to know a particular place, culture and so on. And I think Caron’s right; it would be fascinating to see how these results might play out with other genres. Thanks for the kind words.

  10. Fascinating stuff Margot – sorry I didn’t participate (I think i was on my break?) – I promise to help build up the male numbers for nnext time 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing the results of the study, Margot. I like to learn about other cultures via crime fiction.

  12. Fascinating results, Margot! With the research we can utilize what aspects of crime readers enjoy, learn, etc,. and then add touches to our own work. Looking forward to more results.

    • Thanks, Sue. I’m hoping that, among other things, crime writers can use this information to create more stories that readers really love. As you know, when you write, there’s no better feeling than that. And fear not, I’ll continue to update you folks as I find out more. The fun’s just beginning…

  13. This was an interesting question, Margot, so I’m glad you shared the results.

  14. Fascinating research, Margot. What a shame their weren’t more men contributing, but that just leaves the door open for more research 🙂

  15. Col

    Looking forward to more analysis in the future – interesting reading!

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s