Cross-Cultural Calibration of Words and Emotions: Referential, Constructionist, and Pragmatic Perspectives

Emotion Review 15 (4):348-362 (2023)
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Emotion-related words differ across societies and eras. Does this mean that emotions themselves differ in similar ways? Three perspectives on language-emotion relations suggest alternative answers to this question. A referential approach implies that any language's emotion concepts provide a potentially perfectible mapping of the emotional world. Constructionist approaches suggest that linguistic concepts shape culturally different emotion perceptions. By contrast, a pragmatic approach emphasizes the performative functions served by conversational uses of emotion words. From this perspective, emotional language is attuned to culture-specific requirements for aligning relations between people and objects. Thus, emotional utterances may be constituents of socially functional emotions rather than separate commentaries on them. Full understanding of cultural variation requires investigation of naturalistic emotional conversations in different societies.



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