An international glossary of untranslatable words

Tim Lomas, PhD, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, has put together an interesting international glossary of untranslatable terms dealing mostly with human feelings (emotions), relationships, or character traits. It contains entries from approximately 62 languages and it can be viewed here.

Interestingly enough, this project reopens the debate about environmental and linguistic determinism (how climate, geography, or the language we speak affect who we are). For example – that existential cozyness associated with being inside/warm/quiet of the Northern European languages, the typical expressions for being outside and enjoying a stroll of the Southerners, cultural characteristics such as grit, love, or melancholy in different degrees, intensities, and “flavors”, etc.

According to an article published recently in the New Yorker, “the theory of linguistic relativity posits that language itself—the specific tongue that we happen to speak—shapes our thoughts and perceptions.”  Lomas rejects the stricter versions of linguistic determinism, but believes that studying a culture’s emotional vocabulary may provide a window into the “things that they value, or their traditions, or their aesthetic ideals, or their ways of constructing happiness, or the things that they recognize as being important and worth noting” – thus enriching the field of psychology with many non-Western concepts, experiences and ideas.


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