New Paper on Emotion and Colexification in Science

The Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications is one of the most prominent outputs of the CALC project and the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, since it combines our interest in standardization, aggregation of cross-linguistic lexical data, graph-based approaches for exploratory data analysis, and interactive visualization tools.

Thanks to a very fruitful collaboration with psychologists from the University of North Carolina, it could now also be shown that the data in CLICS has the potential to provide essential evidence for questions related to human cognition. The study shows that emotion semantics vary across language families, but that there is a certain common core of similarities that can be used as an explanandum of certain structures across all cultures:

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.

The paper titled Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure by Joshua Jackson, Joseph Watts, Teague Henry, myself, Peter Mucha, Robert Forkel, Simon Greenhill, Russell Gray, and Kristen Lindquist has has now appeared in Science.