Positively Positive!

Texting and tweeting have reduced our phraseology to the bare bones to communicate, but we still require a deal of sophistication if we can get it. But what about the English language in general? Is it a cold stiff upper-lippy language, or is it a happy go lucky cheerful language? The French, of course, claim French for romance, but that leaves plenty of space for English.

Kloumann and her colleagues from the U of Vermont have been worrying during those long Vermont winters about where does English stand on the emotional spectrum; does it impart a neutral, negative or positive flavor to our communications? (1)

To find out, they gleaned a set of the most commonly used words from Twitter, The New York Times, Music Lyrics and The Google Book project so that they had covered all levels of erudicity. Then they obtained 50 independent judgments on the happiness rating of each word.

This latter labor of Hercules was carried out via Amazon’s Turk. For those that had missed some of the advances of the 21st Century, Amazon’s Turk is a service run by Amazon for people who would like to take on some human intelligence task on their computer at home (for money, of course) and report the results to harassed academics or others who are too busy or grand for scut work.

The results? Well, “laughter” was rated 8.5/10 for happy, while “terrorist” was rated 1.3/10 on the happy scale. So after half a million human word evaluations, they found that English was positively biased towards happy. The mean was around 60% happy.

Of course, the words are grabbed from a big population that doesn’t cover a fixed time. One wonders what the happiness rating would be if the same study was done with the words selected from those used during this American election year. Just at the moment there doesn’t seem to be much positivity going around.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029484

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