Researchers find that different languages express emotions differently although they may be translated to the same word, implying the need for greater emphasis on communication in cultivating collaboration across global teams. Today more than ever we are living in a world where the distance between time and space has been made shortened due to the advent of technology. Often, we find ourselves working on global and cross-cultural teams, where companies pride themselves on their global footprint and reach. As I’ve written before, this diversity has a positive and direct impact on the company’s bottom line, where diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. The word diversity also signifies that something is composed of distinct and differing elements. Thus, diversity in itself is the creation of variability, but the symbiosis of that variability is what brings about beauty and progress. So how can teams ensure that this diversity works in symbiosis? Scientists may have found an interesting answer for us, and it lies in communication.
In fact scientists have long been fascinated with communication, more importantly how emotion is conveyed through language. A recent large scale study of language and the expression of emotion examined a cross section of various languages, ranging from those that are spoken by thousands to those that are spoken by millions of people. Language is used to express the whole spectrum of our human experience, from the mundane to the depths of the soul. In fact philosophers and writers have used language throughout centuries, sometimes in prose and sometimes in poems, to unveil the depths of the human experience and the inherent emotions that arise with it. As we try to understand those seminal works translated from the original language, we may find ourselves lost in translation because some of the original meaning, intention or play on words can only understood in the context of the original language it was written in. This dichotomy is precisely what the authors of a recent research study on language and emotion found: different cultures prescribe different words to various emotions, and words to express a particular emotion may not be found in a certain language or may have a slightly different understanding. To illustrate an example, the researchers state “Persian, for instance, uses the word-form ænduh to express both the concepts of ‘grief’ and ‘regret,’ whereas the Sirkhi dialect of Dargwa uses the word-form dard to express both the concepts of ‘grief’ and ‘anxiety.’ Persian speakers may therefore understand ‘grief’ as an emotion more similar to ‘regret,’ whereas Dargwa speakers may understand ‘grief’ as more similar to ‘anxiety.’” In this example we see how seemingly same words have different and nuanced connotations, which may imply different association with different emotional states. Another example that research give is the existence of a word to describe a feeling in one language but does not exist in the other. One such example is the German word Sehnsucht, which expresses a desire for an alternative life, however, has no direct English counterpart. In this way we see the difficulty of expressing and translating our emotions across language, and that although we may experience the same emotion, a word in one language may be understood differently than in the other. In such a way language may not give us the tools to accurately describe everything we mean.
Read more: Forbes