Words have the power to abstract, in a more or less simple and / or articulated sound, complex situations that any individual faces both inside and outside of himself. From material objects to subtle affections, everyone can be represented with them. Colexification definition
However, the way we mold words depends on how the society in which we were born and developed perceives the realities to which they allude, giving it nuances subject to the relationships that are forged with the environment.
That is why, despite the fact that love has a specific word in all the cultures that are recognized today, it is very possible that it denotes different experiences in each of the cases (since it could connect with very different “states” , such as pride, shame or joy; depending on the place and its traditions).
Colexification describes how a word is associated, at a semantic and comparative level, with other different words in one or several communities. Thus, and given that they all have an evident symbolic value, it is a phenomenon that conditions the way in which we process and value our inner life.
What is colexification?
The vocabulary of the human being is very rich in nuances , as it pursues the purpose of translating a complex and practically infinite reality into visual or acoustic symbols, through which what sometimes cannot be captured with the senses is abstracted and shared. In the same way, the affects also have their own concrete terms, with which the members of society communicate their inner life: from crying to laughter, from sadness to joy; all of them are words other than what they indicate. Colexification definition
The study of emotions has concluded that there is a limited set of basic and irreducible affects, universal and derived from the genetic background of our species: joy, fear, anger, sadness, surprise and disgust. However, despite the fact that all people can feel them at some point in their lives, the experiential nuances that give them their full meaning are subject to unique cultural influences, which arise from the social environment in which we develop as individuals.
And it is that, definitely, with the use of the verb the reality that each one has to understand the world in which they live is built. This form of constructivism requires directly from the relationships that are forged with others, including the use of a common language that is inspired by the experience of the peoples and in the history that cements their sense of identity . Thus, they can use certain words to identify an emotion, but this will also be linked to other related concepts in a potentially different way from what happens in other groups.
What has been observed, in all societies, is that their members use similar gestures to express what they have inside. And that in addition to this, they have the necessary words to tell others what things they are feeling at a certain moment, for which they translate their experience through verbal and non-verbal codes. It is precisely this process of elaboration that spices up the term with anthropological nuances, and the reason why the word used to label the emotion can have different meanings depending on the place where it is pronounced.
Bringing up a hypothetical assumption, it could be that in a specific society “courage” is privileged as the most desirable trait of all possible, so that “fear” would be related to “shame” or even “disgrace. “. On the other hand, in a different and distant region, where such emotion did not have the same social consideration, it could be related to opposite ideas (such as “compassion”, for example); and even the morphology of the word itself would be different. These differential ways of referring to fear, which sink into the realm of culture, promote diametrically different prisms of living it.
The degree of colexification of two terms, in different cultures, refers to their comparison not only in formal terms, but also to the covariations with other constructs. In this way, when two words have a high colexification, it would be assumed that the societies in which they are used have constructed the reality to which they allude in a similar way , or what is the same, that they share anthropological foundations (histories, culture , customs, etc.). Colexification definition
How words are built in a society
As noted above, all emotions are universal, but the way they will be transformed into words (and the connections they will make with other concepts) will be associated with cultural dimensions to a large extent. One of the main purposes of those who have investigated these issues has been precisely to discover how this process develops, and if there are mechanisms common to all societies that can account for it.
The first thing that has been learned is that, in all cases, emotions are organized as clusters, in which a central node (themselves) is seen to which other words that harbor some degree of congruence are attached. In this way, “fear” (or any other basic emotion) will be associated with different attributes, although oriented in the same direction and very rarely opposed to each other. These connections are specific to each human collective.
It has been proven that, in all societies, words share two coordinates for their construction. Both allow them to be endowed with a basic substrate: we are talking about valence and emotional activation. The first of them refers to the dichotomous categorization between the pleasant and the unpleasant, and the second to the degree of physiological activation (or arousal) that they promote. Thus, there would be “positive” and “negative” emotions (in the sense of their affective tone and / or their agreeableness), and that cause a high or low degree of autonomous and motor activation.
Likewise, it has been studied in depth whether other dimensions of bipolar structure, such as approximation / distancing (tendency to seek or avoid), could also contribute to all of this. In any case, these seem to explain only a minimal variance of the phenomenon, highlighting the valence and the degree of activation above all the others. With these findings it is verified that both emotion and its fundamental experience are keys shared by our species, but that the social is necessary to shed light on all its diversity. Colexification definition
The colexification of any term in two different societies is closely associated with its territorial proximity , but also with the traditions of exchange that over the years have motivated its cultural and linguistic miscegenation. This makes it clear that the experience of emotions, due to its additional connotation linked to social constructivism, is a very important factor in understanding nuances of the experience of each of the subjects that are part of a group. Colexification definition
Although the words we use to describe an emotion exist due to the fact that all mammals share some internal experiences, their deep meaning cannot be reduced to biology. This occurs mainly in words that are polysemic (or that have more than one meaning), since they are also the most abstract. The same does not happen in those that describe unequivocal and / or tangible realities (objects that can be seized by the different sense organs). Let’s look at some examples.
Some examples of colexification
There are many bilingual people who say they feel differently when they use one or another language to communicate, and perhaps this is precisely what colexification as a sociolinguistic phenomenon may underlie. And it is that the infinite ways in which a term covaries with others imprints on it the essential nuances that give it meaning for the community of speakers that uses it.
The word “sadness”, in Spanish, refers to very varied emotions, such as “sadness” or “anxiety“. However, in Persian culture there is the term ænduh to describe both “sorrow” and “repentance”, while in the Sirkhi dialect, dard would be used to capture “sorrow” and “anxiety”. From all this it follows, therefore, that “sorrow” will have a very different background in each of these languages , since the word that describes it is related in a very different way to other words (“repentance” for the first of cases and “anxiety” for the second). Colexification definition
Another example can be found in the word used to describe “anxiety” itself. Speakers of the Tai-Kadai languages associate it with “fear”, while users of all the Austro-Asian languages associate it more closely with “repentance”, from which it follows that in one case it is experienced as fear. prospectively (similar to how Western science understands it) and on the other as the result of acts that are felt to be wrong (and to concepts such as karma or providence).
Differences for the word “anger” can also be found in different cultures . To cite an example, in the languages that come from the Republic of Dagestan (Russia) this covariates with “envy“, while in the languages that come from the Austronesian peoples it is associated with “hatred” and a generic “bad” . Again, it will be evident that the experiences of its speakers with “anger” will be different to a large extent, and even that it could be triggered by situations that are also different.
A very interesting case is found in the word “love” in the Austronesian languages, as they associate it closely with the word “shame”. This means that “love”, in their way of understanding it, has more negative meanings than those that other peoples usually give it, which relate it to “joy” and “happiness“.
In short, each language is very flexible and gives reality different nuances for each of the human communities, despite the fact that the nature of what it defines (in objective terms) is comparable for all. It is, therefore, an imprecise and ambiguous categorization of experience, which leaves a wide margin for social aspects to interfere in a decisive way. Colexification definition