See these red dots? Those are 19 emotions for which English has no words.

The graphic itself uses baseline of Parrot’s Emotion Classification--a seemingly nuanced guide to specific human feelings.

But the foreign words, working their way into the spokes of language, make Parrot’s emotions sound like they’ve been muttered by a caveman.

The graphic makes a strong case to keeping the variety of world wide language alive.

Because in a way, if we don’t have the words to describe a feeling…

…how much are we really feeling it?

…how much are we really feeling it?

Infographic: 19 Emotions For Which English Has No Words

Love and sadness are far more nuanced than the English language permits.

We’ve all heard that the Inuit people have countless words for snow. That’s a bit of a misnomer, but the sentiment is powerful all the same: Some cultures have rewritten language itself in order to better express the things most important to them.

It’s an idea explored in this infographic by design student Pei-Ying Lin, which lists 19 emotions that, unless you’re a native speaker of Russian, Japanese, or any number of languages other than English, you’ve probably never heard before.

“My inspiration came from the experience of studying in the UK as a foreign student and having to have conversations with both friends who do not understand Chinese (my mother tongue) and those who do,” Lin tells Co.Design. “So often our conversations will involve looking for a right word to say in either English or Chinese, and unable to find its equivalent in the other language.”

At the core of Lin’s graphic is Parrot’s Emotion Classification, which contains a seemingly nuanced look at over 100 emotions (in English). Not only does Parrot’s list include words like “cheerfulness,” but it also maps their more specific permutations, like “bliss” or “gladness.” So, you know, it seems pretty good—that is, until you read the foreign alternatives that Lin has highlighted in red bubbles. How about the word “Gezelligheid,” which is Dutch for “comfort and coziness of being at home, with friends, with loved ones or general togetherness”? Or maybe you’ll like “hygge,” which is Danish for a similar idea but specific to events of food and drink.

“We tend to use languages in the most economical way—meaning that if there’s a simple word for expressing [a] complicated idea, then we will tend to go for it,” Lin writes. “[But] I think knowing more languages/words allows us to expend our conceptual world. We ‘grow’ with our languages. So it’s not exactly like the hypothesis that ‘Eskimos have more words for snow’ so they can tell more different kinds of snow, but rather, perception and language have an active interaction with each other.“

With that in mind, I couldn’t help but ask Lin if there were any emotions she’d like words for. My favorite was “‘the moment of learning something and feel the expansion of one’s perception scope’ like the moment you suddenly understand ‘infinity’ in mathematics, or the moment of understanding the idea of ‘parallel universe.’”

And I totally know what she means. Because my deficient English vocabulary has always labeled that feeling as “insignificance.”

See more here.

[Hat tip: PopSci]

[Image: Emoticons via Shutterstock]

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26 Comments

  • Francesca

    Interesting, because it further demonstrate how language and culture are closely interdependent. The English language has in fact one of the largest vocabulary. Yet it fails to be sophisticated when describing emotions. It is possible that Anglo-Saxon culture tends not to liger in discussing emotions, being a bit more reserved than other cultures. This would explain the gap...

  • Hackunit

    Mark, you've used the word 'misnomer' incorrectly. What you're describing is an incorrect fact. But wait, that's an oxymoron. Damn.

  • Zakaman

    i was gnna say something but woe is the nonexistent word in english to describe it!

    english speakers just don't feel these emotions.

    like lin says, we do tend to use language in its most economical form like the proper english expression for all 19 of these: fuck!

    my first thought was 'well, this is going to be a tough article to write' i have a lot more. while it's an interesting read, it seems kind of harsh to criticize english in particular. no language is comprehensive--there will always be expressions in foreign languages that don't translate definitely. yet if you want to really probe into the communicative comprehensiveness of language isn't it appropriate to equate all language as an attempt for us to express that which cannot be detailed sufficiently, including emotions? it seems as if these emotions that lin lays out here are semi-cousins of existing english words--the difference being in the details. one could also argue that language is just as expressive as it is interpretative. so no matter the case, regardless of the detail and specificity a word might claim to convey, communication is still a two-way street. you can illustrate this by separate peoples' dissenting interpretation of any word from those simple as happy, sad, angry, tired to ecstatic, morose, repugnate, and apathetic. so while the article stabs at the purpose behind language as a standard verbalization with the intent of communicating as coherently and particularly possible, it's fascinating but pretty much moot. 

    oh and as for “‘the moment of learning something and feel the expansion of one’s perception scope’ like the moment you suddenly understand ‘infinity’ in mathematics, or the moment of understanding the idea of ‘parallel universe.’” -- enlightened, perception-altering, epiphany, mind-blowing, transformative--pick one and hope whoever you're saying it to understands it in the way you intended (which may or may not be its original intended use)

    language is fluid and subjective. that's kind of the cool thing about it. 'lulz wsup?' might not be made of any officially recognized words, but you understand something close to what i mean right? and when all is said and done, that is its purpose and the best we can do given our biology. long rant sorry, got me thinking so guess the pt of the article is inspirational huh? cool read.

  • Mooloo

    No, because these translations are only approximations of the words.
    Not many words have any perfect clarity of meaning, even within one language. When I say a person is "difficult", it only ever leaves you with a sense of what I mean. Real clarity always takes more than one word. It can take a book.

    So "Ti voglio bene" is only an approximation, even to other Italians. Not surprising then that it is to English.

    The sensation, however, will be exactly the same, even if unexpressible. 

  • genecallahan

    "We’ve all heard that the Inuit people have countless words for snow. That’sa bit of a misnomer,"

    You're going to write about language without even knowing what the word "misnomer" means? No, Mark, resume being a hipster, and stop trying to be an intellectual.

  • Roddick

    "We’ve all heard that the Inuit people have countless words for snow. That’sa bit of a misnomer, but the sentiment is powerful all the same: Some cultures have rewritten language itself in order to better express the things most important to them."

    No, no, no :( The Inuit canard is as untrue as the sentiment it supposedly expresses. This is a cool graphic but we're all people and we all feel the same things—the differences in the ways we describe them are more just happy accidents.

  • Pace7879

    Japanese: The bubbly
    feeling of the moment of falling in love.
    Smitten or Twitterpated
    (before the 140 character website).

  • tonguetiedfred

    "the moment you suddenly understand ‘infinity’ in mathematics, or the moment of understanding the idea of ‘parallel universe.’”

    I kinda think the word epiphany fills the bill pretty good...

  • Teresa

    I'm a native speaker of Estonian and indeed I have given up trying to translate "ei viitsi" after several unsuccessful attempts. (British) English has an expression "cannot be arsed" that comes close yet the former isn't vulgar in tone.

  • jmco

    Cosy gathering. Cosy room. Cosy family. Cosy couch.This boils down to how English can use multiple words to more precisely describe a subject or place. The inverse is one word with complex meaning to describe a variety of subjects or places.

  • Blue3000

    This is retarded. Obviously the English language does have words to describe all these emotions. See, you describe them in English. What you mean is that there isn't necessarily an easy one-word translation for them, which isn't even interesting at all.

  • CF

     You're right.  The English language has a lot of descriptive words...especially many others that are more intelligent and less offensive than "retarded". 

  • Seth

    I don't know about the existence of equivalent terms for all emotions in English.  But I can say for certain that there are quite a lot of words in various Indian languages, especially from the spiritual arena, for which there are no equivalent words found in English nor could it be explained in English.  

    I would like to place this line of thinking for everyone's consideration.  I think, a language reflects the culture and culture, its maturity are based on the age of the civilization.  Indian traditions and civilization are ageless and naturally, there are innumerable terms, as also many other aspects of human life, developed among this populace, which are yet to become familiar in relatively younger civilizations.  If this is true, it is understandable that all such alien languages would not be enriched with words, which are found only in an older civilization.

    I also found that English is one such language, which enriches its vocabulary by adopting new terminologies from other languages constantly and thus found to be flexible and perhaps the reason that it is growing faster and spreading all over the world.  But the deficiency remains, as of now.