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Love faith hope– it’s the same all over the world isn’t it? Not according to research by Joshua Conrad Jackson and his colleagues from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. They examined nearly 2500 languages to ‘determine the degree of similarity in linguistic networks of 24 emotion terms across cultures’. Or, in plain English, they looked at words expressing emotions such as ‘anger’ and ‘fear,’ to see if they had similar meanings across languages.

Only So Many Emotions?

You might think that there are only so many emotions and that English has them all covered. But, did you know, for example, that the German word ‘Sehnsucht’ refers to a strong desire for an alternative, ideal life and has no direct translation in English. (Though Google Translate will try to tell you it means ‘nostalgia’.) That’s just one example, there are many more throughout the world.

Love is Love

But surely, where there are words with apparently direct translation to and from English, then the meaning behind them will be the same? Does ‘love’ carry the same depth of meaning as ‘amour’, ‘amore’ and ‘sevgi’ – French, Italian and Turkish respectively. Probably not. For example, while the concept of ‘love’ is closely linked to ‘like’ and ‘want’ in Indo-European languages, it is strongly linked to ‘pity’ in Austronesian languages. It seems that while there might be a word for love in hundreds of languages the words may well not mean the same thing.

 

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