Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure

Joshua Conrad Jackson, Joseph Watts, Teague R Henry, Johann Mattis List, Robert Forkel, Peter Mucha, Simon Greenhill, Russell D Gray, Kristen A Lindquist

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Many human languages have words for emotions such as "anger" and "fear," yet it is not clear whether these emotions have similar meanings across languages, or why their meanings might vary. We estimate emotion semantics across a sample of 2474 spoken languages using "colexification"—a phenomenon in which languages name semantically related concepts with the same word. Analyses show significant variation in networks of emotion concept colexification, which is predicted by the geographic proximity of language families. We also find evidence of universal structure in emotion colexification networks, with all families differentiating emotions primarily on the basis of hedonic valence and physiological activation. Our findings contribute to debates about universality and diversity in how humans understand and experience emotion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1517-1522
    Issue number6472
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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