M exico City. Chicago. Two researchers digging into how emotion gets expressed in human language. They interviewed young (people in their 20’s) and old (people in their 60’s). Robert Schrauf, associate professor of applied linguistics and an anthropologist at Penn State, found something unusual in his study, despite the age and cultural differences of his participants.
“I found this surprising result,” Schrauf says. “Half of all the words that people produce from their working vocabulary to express emotion are negative. And 30 percent are positive and 20 percent are neutral.”
“And every single one of these groups, young Mexicans and old Mexicans, young Anglos and old Anglos, had the same proportions, 50 percent negative, 30 percent positive and 20 percent neutral.”
What does it mean?
According to Schrauf’s research (albeit limited in scope), the language that we use to express emotion comprises a 50:30:20 ratio (negative:positive:neutral). Obviously, this is a gross generalization, but still eye-opening.
Does this mean that we experience more negative and neutral experiences (on average) in our daily lives than positive ones? Maybe you can take note of your daily experiences.
Are these experiences regional or cultural? Are they a product of evolution or progress?
If humans do experience more “negativity” on average, is that by intelligent or biological design or is it a product of the environment that we created, perhaps haphazardly?
The world is meaningless
The outside world you experience is inherently meaningless. There must be meaning-makers to give the world, and everything in it, meaning.
A slap on the face could mean anything, depending on whether you’re on the receiving end or not. A slap could make you laugh (Youtube the Three Stooges), angry, or even shame (“I deserved that.”)
But SOMEBODY must give the world meaning or none of us would survive – and here’s where it gets interesting.
Somebody gives an event meaning. We’ll call this person the authority. People watch the authority “react” to an event, and depending on his or her reaction, others mirror that reaction.
We have the original meaning-maker, the authority. Then we have the “followers” mimicing what they see.
One person is using their imagination. The other is just observing their authority and following suit.
50:30:20 – a ratio that transcends age and culture.
Are you aware that you’re giving events meaning?
Are you CHOOSING the meaning you’re giving incidents/events or are you following/mirroring what somebody else has shown you?
And if you are aware that you’re consciously giving meaning to everyday life, and YOU ALONE have that power, why in the world would you choose to experience a 50:30:20 ratio? Why not a 10:80:10 ratio?
Put another way, if language has an impact on a person’s direct experience of the world, why would you purposely choose to have more negative or neutral experiences than positive ones? Wouldn’t you switch out so-called negative words for positive words to enhance your life experience AS SOON AS POSSIBLE??