FEEL­ING THE WORDS Pri­mary emo­tions hard­wired

Does the depth of emo­tions we feel de­pend on the lan­guage we speak?

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

Not ev­ery lan­guage fam­ily seems to see emo­tion in the same way as the other, and that’s a re­ally im­por­tant find­ing on such a large scale Kris­ten Lindquist

The English word 'love' can be trans­lated as sevgi in Turk­ish and sz­erelem in Hun­gar­ian - but does the con­cept carry the same mean­ing for speak­ers of all three tongues?

Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Max Planck In­sti­tute for the Science of Hu­man His­tory have used a new tool in com­par­a­tive lin­guis­tics to ex­am­ine emo­tional con­cepts across the world, find­ing the way we think of things such as anger, fear, and joy de­pends on our lan­guage.

Their pa­per drew on data from nearly 2,500 lan­guages, from large ones with mil­lions of speak­ers to small ones with thou­sands, and was pub­lished in the jour­nal Science re­cently.

Some­times, words used to de­scribe emo­tions are so unique, it seems they are rooted ex­clu­sively in a par­tic­u­lar cul­ture. The Ger­man word Sehn­sucht, re­fer­ring to a strong de­sire for an al­ter­na­tive life, has no trans­la­tion in English.

Nor does the word awum­buk, used by the Bain­ing peo­ple of Pa­pua New Guinea to de­scribe feel­ings of list­less­ness that hosts feel af­ter their guests leave. But many other emo­tional states are named across the world’s lan­guages, lead­ing sci­en­tists to won­der how close their mean­ing re­ally is. To ap­proach the ques­tion, the team re­lied on ‘colex­i­fied’ words, which refers to when a word has more than one mean­ing and the dif­fer­ent mean­ings are seen by speak­ers of that lan­guage as con­cep­tu­ally sim­i­lar.

For ex­am­ple, the English word ‘funny’ can mean both hu­mor­ous and odd, and hu­mour is of­ten found in things that are odd. In Rus­sian, the word ruka' is used for both the hand and the arm, in Ja­panese,

ki can mean both tree and wood, and in French, femme means both woman and wife. The re­searchers con­structed net­works of colex­i­fied emo­tional con­cepts and com­pared them across lan­guages and lan­guage fam­i­lies, find­ing the words var­ied greatly in their nu­ance even if their mean­ing was equated in trans­la­tion dic­tio­nar­ies.

In Aus­trone­sian lan­guages, for ex­am­ple, 'sur­prise' was closely as­so­ci­ated with 'fear', whereas in the Tai-Kadai lan­guages of south­east Asia and south­ern China, 'sur­prise' was linked to the con­cepts of 'hope' and 'want'.

'Anx­i­ety' was closely re­lated to 'anger' among Indo-Euro­pean lan­guages, but was linked more to 'grief' and 're­gret'

amongst Aus­troasi­atic lan­guages, while the con­cept of 'pride' like­wise cor­re­lated to pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive emo­tions de­pend­ing on cul­ture.

“Not ev­ery lan­guage fam­ily seems to see emo­tion in the same way as the other, and that's a re­ally im­por­tant find­ing on such a large scale,” Kris­ten Lindquist, a psy­chol­ogy and neu­ro­science as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at UNC-Chapel Hill and the pa­per's se­nior au­thor, told AFP.

The anal­y­sis found that those lan­guage fam­i­lies with sim­i­lar colex­i­fi­ca­tions were close in ge­o­graphic prox­im­ity, sug­gest­ing the vari­a­tion could be tied to pat­terns of trade, con­quest and mi­gra­tion. Yet there were some univer­sal find­ings too: All lan­guages dis­tin­guished emo­tions based on whether they are pleas­ant or un­pleas­ant to ex­pe­ri­ence, and whether they in­volve low or high lev­els of arousal.

Few lan­guages equated the lowarousal emo­tion of sad­ness with the high-arousal emo­tion of anger, and few viewed the pleas­ant emo­tion of 'happy' as sim­i­lar to the un­pleas­ant emo­tion of 're­gret'.

That sup­ports the idea that cer­tain pri­mary emo­tions are hard­wired into mam­malian brains, which hu­mans have added to over mil­len­nia through new ex­pe­ri­ences that they have gone on to name. "There are the ba­sic build­ing blocks of emo­tion, but hu­mans have been scaf­fold­ing on these build­ing blocks for thou­sands of years within our cul­tures," Joshua Jack­son, a doc­toral stu­dent at UNC-Chapel Hill and the lead au­thor, said.

"The way that we’ve named emo­tions, the way we com­mu­ni­cate emo­tions, has been an im­por­tant part of that process and that's why we have so much diver­sity in how we ex­press emo­tions to­day."

This photo il­lus­tra­tion shows a selec­tion of emo­jis and stick­ers dis­played on smart­phones in Wash­ing­ton re­cently

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