The precise meaning of emotion words is different around the world
Is the experience we call "love" felt the same in every language?
When you can't quite put your finger on how you're feeling, don't worry — there may be a non-English word that can help you out.
There are hundreds of words across the world for emotional states and concepts, from the Spanish word for the desire to eat simply for the taste (gula) to the Sanskrit for revelling in someone else's joy (mudita).
But what about those words that exist across many languages — "anger", for example, or "happiness"? Do they mean the same thing in every language, or do we experience emotions differently based on the culture we are brought up in? Is the experience we call "love" in English emotionally analogous with its direct translation into Hungarian, "szerelem", for example?
In a new paper in Science, Joshua Conrad Jackson from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues looked at 2,439 distinct concepts (including 24 relating to emotion) from 2,474 languages. The team analysed the similarities and differences between languages based on patterns of "colexification": instances in which multiple concepts are expressed by the same word form.
In Persian, to use the team's example, the word ænduh can be used to express both grief and regret; in the Dargwa dialect, spoken in Dagestan in Russia, dard means grief and anxiety. It follows, therefore, that Persian speakers may understand grief as closer to regret, and Dargwa speakers closer to anxiety.
The analysis allowed the researchers to create networks of concepts that showed, for each language family, how closely different emotional concepts related to each other. These revealed wide variation between language families. For instance, in Tad-Kadai languages, which can be found in Southeast Asia, southern China, and Northeast India, "anxiety" was related to "fear"; in Austroasiatic languages, anxiety was closer to "grief" or "regret". In Nakh Daghestanian languages spoken mainly in parts of Russia, on the other hand, "anger" was related to "envy", but in Austronesian languages it was related to "hate", "bad", and "proud".
But there were some similarities. Words with the same emotional valence — i.e. that were positive or negative — tended to be associated only with other words of the same valence, in all language families across the world. Happiness, for example, was linked to other positive emotions, even if the specific associations were slightly different depending on the language family. (This wasn't always the case though: in some Austronesian languages, "pity" and "love" were associated, suggesting pity may be more positive or love more negative than in other languages). Similarly, low-arousal emotions like sadness were also unlikely to be compared to high-arousal emotions like anger.
And geography also seemed to matter: language families that were geographically closer tended to share more similar associations than those that were far away.
The study's findings suggest that emotional concepts do vary between languages up to a point, raising the question of just how similar supposedly universal experiences are. Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how somebody else is experiencing the world, and language can often be woefully inadequate when it comes to expressing our internal life. And while the research suggests that those emotional experiences may vary in subtle ways across the world, deep down it seems we're not so dissimilar at all.
- How long to learn that language? Here's a map for that - Big Think ›
- 10 Relationship Words That Aren't Translatable Into English - Big ... ›
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
The inequalities impact everything from education to health.
Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller talks ISS and why NICER is so important.
- Being outside of Earth's atmosphere while also being able to look down on the planet is both a challenge and a unique benefit for astronauts conducting important and innovative experiments aboard the International Space Station.
- NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller explains why one such project, known as NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), is "one of the most amazing discoveries of the last year."
- Researchers used x-ray light data from NICER to map the surface of neutrons (the spinning remnants of dead stars 10-50 times the mass of our sun). Thaller explains how this data can be used to create a clock more accurate than any on Earth, as well as a GPS device that can be used anywhere in the galaxy.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.