Finding New Emotions Through Language

May 16, 2017 | Diversity & Inclusion

Is there a word that describes the inexplicable urge to burst out laughing at an inappropriate moment? Is there a name for the very distinctive sort of disappointment that strikes when a prospective sneeze fails to discharge? Probably not, but there’s a good chance you can relate to these feelings.

Our efforts to describe the world and the specific ways we respond to it are evidence that we are, at the very least, aware of our most subtle feelings. And the fact that different languages have single terms that capture different emotional nuances can tell us something about the experiences that inform verbal expression from far-flung cultures.

According to a fascinating article on, exposure to such linguistic gems might also broaden our own breadth and depth of self-understanding. The article describes the work of a psychologist, Tim Lomas, who has collected expressions that various peoples have coined to communicate very precise gradations of affirmative sentiment. His research, the Positive Lexicography Project, suggests that by expanding our vocabulary, we can actually bolster the inner resources we rely on to process – in a healthy way – life’s abundance of intricate stimuli.

If familiarity with esoteric foreign terms can elevate our understanding of ourselves, it makes sense that acquaintance with any facet of a different culture might enrich our inner worlds. As we try to understand the meaning of customs that are strange and new to us, we often discover the recognizable, universal theme behind them. And with just a little bit of imagination, we can grasp the significance of a habit, or an expression, or a word.