Ground-breaking European research has uncovered a link between language and emotions.
Psychologist Dr. Ralf Rummer and phoneticist Dr. Martine Grice were able to demonstrate that the articulation of vowels systematically influences our feelings and vice versa.
The researchers looked at the question of whether and to what extent the meaning of words is linked to their sound.
The specific focus of the project was on two special cases; the sound of the long ‘i’ vowel (/i:/) and that of the long, closed ‘o’ vowel (/o:/).
Rummer and Grice were particularly interested in finding out whether these vowels tend to occur in words that are positively or negatively charged in terms of emotional impact.
For this purpose, they carried out two fundamental experiments, the results of which have now been published in Emotion, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
In the first experiment, the researchers exposed test subjects to film clips designed to put them in a positive or a negative mood and then asked them to make up ten artificial words themselves and to speak these out loud.
They found that the artificial words contained significantly more ‘/i:/’s than ‘/o:/’s when the test subjects were in a positive mood.
When in a negative mood, however, the test subjects formulated more ‘words’ with ‘/o:/’s.
The second experiment was used to determine whether the different emotional quality of the two vowels can be traced back to the movements of the facial muscles associated with their articulation.
In this test, the team headed by Rummer and Grice required their test subjects to articulate an ‘i’ sound or an ‘o’ sound every second while viewing cartoons.
The test subjects producing the ‘i’ sounds found the same cartoons significantly more amusing than those producing the ‘o’ sounds instead.
In view of this outcome, the authors concluded that it would seem that language users learn that the articulation of ‘i’ sounds is associated with positive feelings and thus make use of corresponding words to describe positive circumstances.
The opposite applies to the use of ‘o’ sounds.
Rummer and Grice believe the findings provide an explanation for a much-discussed phenomenon.
The tendency for ‘i’ sounds to occur in positively charged words (such as ‘like’) and for ‘o’ sounds to occur in negatively charged words (such as ‘alone’) in many languages appears to be linked to the corresponding use of facial muscles in the articulation of vowels on the one hand and the expression of emotion on the other.
Source: University of Cologne