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How sociocultural forces shape the emotion lexicon in hunter-gatherer languages


Although human emotions have a common biological basis, different cultures elaborate different aspects of their emotional world. This variation is reflected in the emotion lexicon, which, despite being well-studied among industrialized societies, remains under-researched in smaller cultural niches. This project focuses on emotion among hunter-gatherers, a rare type of society today, but a dominant one for 95% of human existence. Hosted by the UCL Anthropology Department—a world leader in hunter-gatherer studies—I will investigate the emotion lexicon in two hunter-gatherer languages to uncover the relationship between the semantic domain of emotion and sociocultural characteristics associated with different settlement patterns (mobile vs. sedentary), e.g. group size and social structure. Using methods from linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cultural anthropology, I will document the emotion lexicon among the closely related mobile Maniq and the sedentary Kentaq (Aslian, Austroasiatic) and examine it against the sociocultural background of each group. Via systematic comparison, I will identify forces shaping the emotion lexicon in each language, ultimately revealing how emotion language may coevolve with sociocultural change triggered by sedentarization. The findings will speak to the fundamental question of how meaning is shaped in our languages and will be of value to semantic typology, hunter-gatherer studies, and psychology.



Net EU contribution
€ 183 454,80
Gower street
WC1E 6BT London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00