Another example of this shift in the use of pronouns often can be found in alleged rape reports.
In the following two statements taken from rape reports, the focus is on the pronoun “we”:
“He forced me into the woods,” versus “We went into the woods.”
The first statement represents the norm. The second statement, which contains
the pronoun “we,” is a deviation from the norm. Veteran rape investigators are alert to the sudden appearance of the pronoun “we” in a victim’s statement. From their experience interviewing rape victims, they have normed the rape victim to use the pronouns “he” and “I,” not the pronoun “we,” to describe the assailant and herself. Because the pronoun “we” denotes togetherness, the investigator reading “we” in an alleged rape statement should ask if the victim knew the assailant and if they were together before the rape occurred. If the victim denies this, there is reason to believe the statement is a fabrication.
In reports of an abduction, the use of the pronoun “we” also can indicate that the victim may not be telling the whole truth.
For example, a young woman who reported that she had been abducted at a shopping center provided the following written statement:
“I parked and started getting out of my car when a white male about 200 pounds, 6 feet tall approached me and told me to get in the car or he would hurt me. He then got in the back. I got in the front and began to drive. He told me to drive west on the highway. He asked me if I had any money. I told him no. We drove for about an hour. During that hour, he hit me repeatedly on the right side of my face. When we got to the exit, I told him I had no gas. He got mad and told me to get off the exit. We went straight off the exit for about 4-5 miles. He told me to turn down the first street on my left. We went down it about 1/4 of a mile. He told me to stop. He opened the door, put both feet out, hit me, and took off walking quickly. He took off to the east of where I was parked. After that, I took off and lost sight of him.”
Investigators experienced in statement analysis would question the truthfulness of the above declaration. A true abduction statement, when normed, includes phrases like “He forced me to drive…” or “He made me get off at the exit….” Traumatized victims who are telling the truth do not use the pronoun “we” to describe assailants and themselves. Investigators concluded that the above statement revealed deception. When interviewed, the woman subsequently confessed that no abduction occurred. She was, in fact, with a man she knew.
Possessive pronouns, e.g., my, our, your, his, her, and their, reveal the attachment that the writer or speaker acknowledges toward a person or object. A suspect will change the pronoun, or drop the pronoun completely, when opting not to show possession or admit association with a particular object or person. For example, “I was cleaning my gun. I was putting my gun away. The gun discharged.” This person, wanting to disclaim ownership of the gun that discharged (either accidentally or intentionally), stopped using the possessive pronoun “my.” It no longer was his gun, under his control; it became the gun.
Another example can be found in a written statement made by a person whose home burned to the ground:
“I left my house right after breakfast to join my friends at the track for the day…. I drove back to my house, made a few phone calls, then went out to dinner with Stan Thompson…. Stan dropped me off at my house around 10:00. After I changed my clothes I left the house to spend the night at my cousin Tom’s. Around midnight we heard fire engines and got up to see what was going on.”
In this account, after the writer consistently used the pronoun “my” to describe his house, he omitted the pronoun the last time it was mentioned. Was it because the house burned down, and it was no longer his house? If so, then this change should have occurred much later, after midnight, when the writer learned that the house was burning. Based on the statements made, investigators should question why the switch in references occurred the last time the writer was in the house. Was it because the writer had spread accelerant on the floor of the house? Was the writer already giving up possession because he had set the fire? Just as arson investigators try to discover if valuable possessions have been removed from a house prior to a fire, those skilled in statement analysis look for the exact point at which the owner stops taking possession by failing to use the pronoun “my.”
Nouns denote persons, places, and things. Yet, nouns take on different meanings, depending on the individual. When examining the words used by a suspect, the investigator needs to note any changes, because a “change of language reflects a change in reality.”4
If suspects substitute a different word after using one word consistently, they telegraph the fact that something in their lives has changed. Although language changes can occur with any part of speech, they are observed more frequently with nouns.