Colexification: a key concept in anthropology and linguistics
This phenomenon shows how different cultures use concepts that overlap with those of others.
Words have the power to abstract, in a more or less simple sound andColexification: a key concept in anthropology and linguistics
This phenomenon shows how different cultures use concepts that overlap with those of others.
Words have the power to abstract, in a more or less simple and/or articulate sound, complex situations that any individual faces both outside and inside him. From material objects to subtle affects, all can be represented with them.
However, the way we shape words depends on how the society in which we are born and develop perceives the realities to which they allude, giving them nuances subject to the relationships forged with the environment.This is why, although love has a specific word in all recognized cultures today, it is quite possible that it denotes different experiences in each case (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.
in one or several communities. Thus, since they all have an obvious symbolic value, it is a phenomenon that conditions the way we process and value our inner life.
The vocabulary of the human being is very rich in nuances. It seeks to translate a complex and practically infinite reality into visual or acoustic symbols, by means of which we abstract and share what sometimes cannot be grasped with the senses. Similarly, affects also have their own concrete terms, with which members of society communicate their inner life: from crying to laughter, from sadness to joy; they are all words distinct from what they signal.The study of emotions has come to the conclusion that there exists
a limited set of basic and irreducible affections, universal and coming from the genetic baggage. of our species: joy, fear, anger, sadness, surprise and disgust. However, although 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 definitely with the use of the verb that we construct the reality that each one of us holds in order to understand the world in which we inhabit. This form of constructivism is directly dependent on the relationships that are forged with others, including the use of a common language that is used to understand the world in which we live.
the use of a common language that draws on the experience of peoples and the history that cements their sense of identity.
. Thus, they may use certain words to identify an emotion, but this will also be linked to other related concepts in a potentially different way than in other groups.
What has been observed in all societies is that their members use similar gestures to express what they have inside. In addition, they have the necessary words to tell others what they are feeling at a given moment, translating their experience through verbal and non-verbal codes. It is precisely this process of elaboration that spices the term with anthropological nuances, and the reason why the word used to label the emotion may have different meanings depending on the place where it is pronounced. Drawing on a hypothetical assumption, it might turn out that in a particular society "bravery" is privileged as the most desirable of all possible traits, so that "fear" would be related to "shame" or even "dishonor." On the other hand, in a different and distant region, where such an emotion would 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 are rooted in the cultural realm, promote diametrically different ways of experiencing it.The degree of colexification of two terms, in different cultures, alludes to their equivalence not only in formal terms, but also to the covariations with other constructs. Thus, when two words have a high degree of 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, in other words, that they have constructed the reality to which they allude in a similar way.
In other words, that they share anthropological foundations (histories, culture, customs, etc.).
How words are constructed in a society As noted above, all emotions are universal, but the way in which they will be transformed into words (and the connections they will draw with other concepts) will be largely associated with cultural dimensions. One of the main purposes of those who have investigated these matters has been precisely to discover how this process develops, and whether there are mechanisms common to all societies that can account for it.The first thing that has been discovered is that, in all cases, emotions are organized as clusters,
emotions are organized as clusters, in which there is a central node (themselves) to which they are attached. (themselves) to which are attached other words that have some degree of congruence among themselves. In this way, "fear" (or any other basic emotion) will be associated with different attributes, although oriented towards 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 us to provide them with a basic substrate: we are talking about valence and emotional activation. The former refers to the dichotomous categorization between the pleasant and the unpleasant, and the latter 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 pleasantness), and which provoke a high or low degree of autonomic and motor activation.Likewise, it has been studied in depth whether other dimensions of bipolar structure, such as approach/distance (tendency to search or avoidance), could also contribute to all this. In any case, these seem to explain only a minimal variance of the phenomenon, with valence and degree of activation standing out above all others. These findings show that both emotion and its fundamental experience are keys shared by our species, but that the social aspect is necessary to shed light on all its diversity.
The colexification of any term in two different societies is closely associated with their territorial proximity, but also with the traditions of exchange which, over the years, have led to their cultural and linguistic intermingling.
The colexification of any term in two different societies is closely associated with their territorial proximity, but also with the traditions of exchange that over the years have led to their cultural and linguistic crossbreeding. It is thus evident that the experience of emotions, due to its additional connotation linked to social constructivism, is a very important factor in understanding the nuances of the experience of each of the subjects who are part of a group.
Although the words we use to describe an emotion exist because all mammals share some internal experiences, their deep meaning cannot be reduced to biology. This occurs mainly in polysemous words (or words that have more than one meaning), since they are also the most abstract. This is not the case with words that describe unequivocal and/or tangible realities (objects that can be grasped by the different sense organs). Let us look at some examples. Some examples of colexificationMany bilingual people say that they feel differently when they use one or the other language to communicate, and perhaps this may underlie colexification as a sociolinguistic phenomenon. The fact is that
the infinite ways in which a term coexists with others imprint on it the essential nuances that give it meaning for the that give it meaning for the community of speakers who use it.The word "grief", in English, refers to a wide variety of emotions, such as "sadness" or "anxiety". However, in Persian culture there is the term ænduh to describe both "sorrow" and "regret", while in the Sirkhi dialect the word dard is used to describe "sorrow" and "anxiety". From all this it follows, therefore, that
The word "grief" will have a very different background in each of these languages
The word describing it is related in very different ways to other words ("repentance" for the former and "anxiety" for the latter).Another example can be found in the word used to describe "anxiety" itself. Speakers of Tai-Kadai languages associate it with "fear", while users of all Austro-Asiatic languages link it more closely to "regret", from which it follows that in one case it is experienced as a prospective fear (similar to how it is understood by Western science) and in the other as the result of acts that are felt to be wrong (and to concepts such as karma or providence).
Differences can also be found for the word "anger" in different cultures.
. To cite an example, in languages originating from the Republic of Dagestan (Russia) it would covary with "envy", while in languages originating from Austronesian peoples it is associated with "hatred" and a generic "bad". Again, it will be evident that the experiences of their speakers with "anger" will be different to a great extent, and it could even be triggered by different situations. A very interesting case is found in the word "love" in Austronesian languages, as it is closely associated with the word "shame". This means that "love", in their way of understanding it, has more negative meanings than those usually given to it by other peoples, who relate it to "joy" and "happiness".In short, each language is very flexible and endows reality with different nuances for each human community, even though the nature of what it defines (in objective terms) is the same for all.
for each of the human collectivities, 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 allows a wide margin for the social aspects to intrude in a social aspects to intrude in a decisive way.
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(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)