Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Which Language is the Happiest?

We all know that languages influence your emotions in many ways. So the other day, we saw an interesting study (PDF) by the University of Vermont (UV) that asked the question: which language is the happiest?

Forty-five years ago, the University of Illinois hypothesized that the "average Joe" uses significantly more words with positive connotations than with negative connotations. They conducted extensive research and concluded that we, regardless of language or culture, do so in the pursuit of happiness. They named this the Pollyanna Hypothesis. These conclusions were at a standstill until the UV study. 

At UV, students used 10 languages with diverse vocabulary and varying structure to explore which words are most easily learned, retained, reiterated, and recited. Users of each native language were asked to rate 100,000 frequently used words (based on media) on a nine-point happiness scale. Each media source, ranging from movie subtitles and news reports to books and Google searches, varied greatly even within its language. 

So, the happiest language? The ultimate battle was between two romance languages: Portuguese and Spanish. 

English fell right in the middle, deeming us "indifferent" on average. Chinese took the cake for the language with the least positive diction throughout every media source, with an average rating of a four on the nine-point scale. UV's Computational Story Lab and a team of research students plan to build upon this study to answer our many "why"s and "how"s.

All in all, not every language is created equally.

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