Emotion terms, category structure, and the problem of translation: The case of shame and _vergüenza_

Cognition and Emotion 24 (4):661-680 (2010)
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Abstract

We conducted three studies aimed at showing that one-to-one translations between emotion terms might be comparing independent or barely overlapping categories of emotional experience. In Study 1 we found that the speakers' most accessible features of two supposedly equivalent emotions terms (shame and vergüenza) were very different. In Study 2, American and Spanish speakers' typicality ratings of 25 out of 29 constitutive features of “shame” or “vergüenza” were significantly different. In Study 3, these important differences in the content and internal structure of “shame” and “vergüenza” were also reflected in the affective meaning of their corresponding terms. We conclude that “shame” and “vergüenza” do not share the same cluster of central features, and cannot be treated as identical categories of emotional experience. This finding raises serious questions about the one-to-one translation practices not only of most cross-cultural studies on “shame”, but also of other emotion concepts. We suggest an alternative method of translation based on Diachronic Prototype Semantics (Geeraerts, 1997).

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