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American Anthropologist

The Universality of the Semantic Structure of Emotion Terms: Methods for the Study of Inter- and Intra-Cultural Variability

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Abstract

The issue of cultural universals versus linguistic relativity is currently one of the most intensely debated topics in sociocultural anthropology. Emotion terms have long served as a contested area and we provide a brief review. The primary aim of the paper is to introduce methods that facilitate the objective analysis of empirical findings on the extent to which semantic structure is shared among different languages. The main finding of this paper is that Chinese-, English-, and Japanesespeaking subjects assign basically similar meanings to 15 common emotion terms. The differences among the three languages are genuine and statistically significant but small. One of the particularly impressive aspects of the present findings is the extent to which they are consistent with previous research traditions that posit cultural and semantic universals. Differences also exist in the performance of Chinese and Japanese bilingual subjects when performing tasks in English compared to performing the same tasks in their native language, [emotions, inter-cultural and intra-cultural variability, cultural universals, linguistic relativity, Chinese, Japanese]

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