You have arrived at the web home of Noah Brier. This is mostly an archive of over a decade of blogging and other writing. You can read more about me or get in touch. If you want more recent writing of mine, most of that is at my BrXnd marketing x AI newsletter and Why Is This Interesting?, a daily email for the intellectually omnivorous.

October, 2009

Smiling Language?

An exploration of the potential relationship between language and mood.
Over at her New York Times blog, Olivia Judson wonders out loud: "Do some languages contain an intrinsic bias towards pulling happy faces? In other words, do some languages predispose -- in a subtle way -- their speakers to be merrier than the speakers of other languages?" For example, when you say "eee" your mouth curls up like a smile, and when you "ooo" it curls down like a frown (hence why we say "cheese" while taking a photo). Anyway, she goes on to try to answer her own question:
As far as I can tell, no one has looked at this. (It doesn't mean no one has; it just means I haven't been able to find it.) But I did find a smidgen of evidence to suggest the idea's not crazy. A set of experiments investigating the effects of facial movements on mood used different vowel sounds as a stealthy way to get people to pull different faces. (The idea was to avoid people realizing they were being made to scowl or smile.) The results showed that if you read aloud a passage full of vowels that make you scowl -- the German vowel sound ü, for example -- you're likely to find yourself in a worse mood than if you read a story similar in content but without any instances of ü. Similarly, saying ü over and over again generates more feelings of ill will than repeating a or o.
October 28, 2009
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.