Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective

Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective

Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective

Emotions in Crosslinguistic Perspective


This volume aims to enrich the current interdisciplinary theoretical discussion of human emo-tions by presenting studies based on extensive linguistic data from a wide range of languages of the world. Each language-specific study gives detailed semantic descriptions of the meanings of culturally salient emotion words and expressions, offering fascinating insights into people's emotional lives in diverse cultures including Amharic, Chinese, German, Japanese, Lao, Malay, Mbula, Polish and Russian. The book is unique in its emphasis on empirical language data, analyzed in a framework free of ethnocentrism and not dependent upon English emotion terms, but relying instead on independently established conceptual universals. Students of languages and cultures, psychology and cognition will find this volume a rich resource of description and analysis of emotional meanings in cultural context.


Anna Wierzbicka and Jean Harkins

The study of human emotions needs input from the study of languages, now more than ever before. Advances in the science of brain physiology are identifying in ever greater detail the specific wave patterns and locations of brain activity that correspond to different affective or emotional states. Studies of this kind require high technology, and most of them are conducted in predominantly English speaking research environments. It is expected that their findings will apply to human brains generally, not just those of a particular language or cultural group (cf. e.g. Davidson and Ekman, eds. 1994; Ekman and Rosenberg, eds. 1997). Further research may confirm or challenge this expectation, but the research itself and the interpretation of its results hinge at certain crucial points upon questions of language. These questions have to be approached seriously, for the validity of scientific studies of emotional response may depend upon whether the issue of language is addressed in an informed way or by default.

Along with increased technical understanding of the workings of human brains, there have also been major advances in the study of emotions from the perspectives of cognitive and crosscultural psychology, psychological anthropology, and sociology. Some of this work has recognised the role of language as central to the study of emotions, particularly when examining instances where the cultural life of one group seems to focus attention on emotional states for which other groups don’t even have names. Detailed descriptions of the meanings and manifestations of emotional states in different linguistic and cultural groups have added much to the understanding of emotions in cultural context.

The purpose of the crosslinguistic studies presented in this volume is to demonstrate how the tools of linguistic analysis can be applied to produce more accurate descriptions of the meanings of emotion words and, more generally, ways of speaking about emotions in different languages. Such analyses of linguistic meaning not only complement findings from other approaches to the study of emotions, but help to resolve methodological problems that arise when these other approaches have to deal with data . . .

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