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What Comes First? Our emotions or our language to identify emotion

I was reading an article earlier today called "The Untranslatable Emotions" which had me thinking deeply about the power of language in impacting our inner experiences. There are many cultures that have feeling words to describe certain experiences, whereas in other cultures those feeling words may not even be existent. How does this in fact impact our internal experience?


Some recent research is beginning to show that emotions are less universal across cultures than previously believed. For example the word "love" is associated in European countries with feelings of "like" and "desire"; in contrast in Austronesian languages the word "love" is associated with "pity" or even "grief". The latter no doubt shapes our inner subjective emotional experiences along nuanced, cultural lines.


I had a couple therapy session yesterday who were coping with the unexpected and tragic death of their teenage child. They both tended to grieve and experience the loss in extremely different ways. One parent, raised in a Japanese culture had a completely different experience of grieving to the other parent raised in more traditional North American culture. For example, in Japan, grieving is perceived less as a psychological state and more about actions that people do through specific rituals (Valentine;2009). In fact, in Japan, there is not even a literal translation of the word “grieving” however the closest translation is the word “mourning” which is more about the behavior and not specifically the feeling (Valentine, 2009). Therefore regarding this couple who were grieving the death of their child, one partner (raised in traditional Japanese culture) found intricate daily rituals and ongoing ceremonies in "honoring" his deceased child to be far more valuable than talk therapy.


Ultimately our cultural language is deeply tied to our creation of emotional experiences and in turn impacts the way we relate to our world; therefore the implications may point towards semantics being a potential vessel in creating and recreating our sense of self.

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