Mathematicians at the University of Vermont have been meddling in a field very far from boring numbers. Earlier this month, they officially declared the English language “optimistic” based on a careful analysis that combined statistics and subtle human evaluation. The researchers, led by assistant professor Chris Danforth, aggregated texts from Twitter, the New York Times, song lyrics, and Google Books’ database dating back to 1520. They picked the top 5,000 words from each source, which totaled 10,222 words. (Why is it not 20,000 words? There was some overlap in the top 5,000. It is no surprise that “the,” “a” and “of” are some of the most frequently used words across these different collections.)
Once they had the most frequently used words, they brought in human evaluators to judge the words on a happiness scale: 0 being the least happy and 9 being the happiest. When each word had a value, they calculated their frequency in the texts. The composite score for all of the words was 6 – a statistically significant shift towards the “happy” end of the spectrum.
Of course, this study isn’t perfect. For one, some words that may be judged as “happy” are not always used that way. The word “bad” has developed an alternative meaning of “outstandingly excellent; first rate.” Some words had very divergent scores from the evaluators. Words like “pregnant” and “alcohol” may be very positive to one person but very negative to another.
Also, the study measures the use of words, not the existence of words, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that English speakers in the selected works were positive, rather than the English language being inherently positive. If the study evaluated the unabridged dictionary using the same methods, we might be able to better measure the emotional tone of the language as a whole.
Danforth and his colleague Peter Sheridan Dodds have been developing a “hedonometer” to measure the mood of a population based on the words they use. The idea of a scale to rate happiness has been around for quite some time; an economist Francis Edgeworth first spread the idea in the 1800s. But Dodds and Danforth have come much closer than their predecessors to a successful system that generates a happiness score for a particular time period by reading tweets, political speeches, and blogs, among other raw texts. Read their academic word here.
Do you think English is an innately positive language? Do you think you can measure happiness by word use?
The English lanuage might be an innately postive language but not the “happy” one. Propbably, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Persian have more impact on the status of happiness; due to the musical nature of these languages where one feels the tone of the word in the heart as well as the ears. It is easier to rythm in other languages than English, though some langues are mechanical in their nature when comes to grammar and the structure of the sentence. The Engish language is more regid and requires more effort to master it comparing to other languages.
There is no happiness in letters. Happiness can only be found in numbers.
Each context is different, and words have multifarious usages. Did this study take into account word context, sarcasm, dialectal differences, various meanings (including slang and informal usages), connotation, tone of language, stress on certain words, &c? Also, since this study used people’s opinions, and they are just that, this is a study that is too subjective to be considered reliable.
I was going to say something along these lines until I read it in the article: “…Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that English speakers in the selected works were positive, rather than the English language being inherently positive. If the study evaluated the unabridged dictionary using the same methods, we might be able to better measure the emotional tone of the language as a whole.”
As far as the language being innately positive, it would be an interesting study. The words in a language can help us learn a lot about a culture. For example, how many words does a language have for describing a particular aspect of nature. Maybe a culture is heavily reliant upon a specific resource and, as such, has a large variety of words or phrases that describe that resource.
Language is incredible!
language is neither positive or negative for all the words to describe both sides of the spectrum are there. speech on the other hand depends on the speaker. this study seems pointless and i hope they didn’t waste a ton of money on it.
What a weird subject to study: the happiness level of a language. I don’t know if it’s possible to determine the happiest (or the most positive) language by any analytical means; in fact, I don’t think language in itself contributes to the overall happiness of any culture, whether American, European, Asian, or African. There are, however, certain cultures that seem more innately jubilant than others, and of all the positive stereotypes I’ve been exposed to, I would say that the Irish, Italians, and maybe Germans are among the most perpetually happy cultures. I think a country’s culture, traditions, leadership and unity of beliefs are what make its people happy, not its language. If anyone thinks otherwise or has something to add, by all means, please post a reply.
[...] ‘Optimism’, Love, Beauty and Happy — Though some Ode to Code be subjective. — Lack of understanding — Originates from perspective. — Ignorance might be Bliss for Some — While for others Bliss is working, — Optimistically with Unrequited Love without pathologically Lurking in Soap Scum or eating a Mystical Happy Meal. — Marvelous is How you Look. — It matters not How you Feel. – Fine.– Thank You. — Who was Howard Beale? –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]
I do not think the English language is ‘happy’. And, if it is so ‘positive’, why are most of the youth yelling cuss (or curse) words around? I do not think the English language is described accurately. Abdel Shilbaya, I agree that the Italians and such are musical sounding, though I never heard Persian. As for song lyrics, have you heard today’s songs? Although I do not understand it, I like Japanese and Korean music. It just has a rhythm. Not too ‘hip’ like English and not too wierd like some yodeling.
oh my god the comments are disgracful
i agree with Hot Word !!:);):D
Perhaps instead of rating how happy or positive this language is, we should rate the optimism and joy of the people who speak it.
This article is rather misleading. Positive words may be most used in Engish, but that doesn’t suggest that English is a happy language. It means that English speakers are on the positive side, but how can you prove that they are positive if you don’t test it with people who speak other languages?
Try the French, Japanese, German, etc. and then you will have substantial evidence to prove whether or not English speakers are happy or just slightly more positive than neutral.
Also, if you insist on proving that English is a happy language, count how many positive words there are of the 250,000 words in the English language and compare that with other languages.
English language is just like other language . So live it like that
I like English! English is cool!
I find this to be a very curious article, however I find that a language cannot be… “happy”, exactly. I believe it is the people themselves that are optimistic, using joyous words in songs and everyday phrases.
Since we are merely looking at the words of language, it is reasonable to say that words are merely names for tangible and intangible things. Words such as ecstasy, joy, happiness, glee; they all have the meaning of being optimistic, but it doesn’t mean that the words themselves are happy!
Language is the way of conveying these intangible and tangible things, so we use these words to communicate with their meanings.
I agree wholeheartedly with Lavender. There is nothing to really prove whether a language is “happy” or not. A slight personification, don’t you think? The idea of having a “happy” language should be looked at by the people that are speaking it. I know many people that speak English and are not the happiest people… and are we saying cuss words are happy? Beause I do not feel very happy when people cuss at me…
Pregnant, not being happy?
Also, people like to share positive news on social media, so that could be an effect.
There is no way a language can be either “positive or “negative”. Like the two ends of a spectrum, language has both good and bad words. And just like English does, there are many other languages that have many positive words that are frequently used. And of course, the word itself can have many meanings according to how and where it is used. So this study about English being “positive” is not so reliable at all.
Wait, they took a bunch of commonly used words and asked people “Are these happy words?” What do these professors teach, kindergarden?
not enough data to make a conclusion
I’ve taught my students that English is not a genetic language but only contrived as a trade language . . . and they concluded that English is not a language after all.
As for the positive effects or ‘reading’ of English, the characteristics of a language in terms of innate happiness-creating ability, would have to do with the entire context of how the language is used within its own culture. English today is far removed from its own culture as it is used worldwide and with English literatures. For example, William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger” is about an animal that is not native to England but only to the African and Asian countries. Yet the ‘happiness’ quotient of ‘The Tyger’ has been widely discussed wherever Blake’s poems are taught or read. To measure the ‘happiness’ of English with any meaningful correlations, it seems we would have to rely only on how English is spoken in an English landscape and cultural community and couldn’t draw accurate conclusions based on the way the study was conducted. Nonetheless, the researchers work certainly is a creative approach, and for their ingenuity as evidence of hopefulness, perhaps we can be happy.
I laughed so hard when I read Hal’s comment for no reason really XD
But anyway I think most of the people commenting on this article are being much too serious and literal. No need to get all worked up over how “happy” certain words are.
And to Athena:
You think other children in other countries don’t yell “cuss” words? And while I’m on the subject do you think adults don’t use those words as well? Just because certain people use derogatory words doesn’t make the whole language awful.
I was also wondering how you went from “happy” to “languages” to “Korean music” to “yodeling.” You went very far off topic.
I agree with you Lavender! The language itself should not be blamed!!!
Possibly, the positivity is the people who use it rather than the language itself. People probably like sharing positive tweets and in todays world a tragic movie or song doesn´t sell as much as a happy/peppy one. The only way to know if there is such a bias is by studying another language the same way.
Living in Germany I notice they ask the equivalent of ´Is this seat free?´ rather than to phrase it as ´Is this seat taken´ which is what most native English speakers use. Leaving aside positivity, I think English speakers like using negative ways of asking questions.
Isn´t it a lovely day?
I think the guide to whether a language is happy is whether somebody who doesn’t understand a single word of it would willingly listen to somebody speaking/singing it. I think English would come close to average on that score. Several other Northern European languages however, they’re music.
I think that this article WOWED me. I guess I am a little suprised because just a couple months ago I was writing in my diary about this VERY THING. I stated in my writings that I thought there were more “negative” words vs “positive” words in the English language and that one day I would sit down and count all the positive & negative words in the English dictionary and weigh out the two. Little did I know that scientists and Drs. have been comtemplating and studying the very thing that has been so consistantly on my mind. I don’t think the study they did is very accurate at all but definately interesting. Again, what I think should be done is to have them all sit down and count negative vs positive minus all the words like of, the, and, a, etc that have neither positive or negative conotations.
The English language enables logical, concise and accurate expression – this is its greatest strength!
I personally think that the English language should be measured by how happy the people are when they speak it, instead of how happy the language is.
They should rate the happiness levels of every other popular language out there, which can be used to make a comparison. Perhaps human beings are just wired to be optimistic as a survival strategy, and every language reflects that. In hindsight, and looking at what I’ve written, I really can’t say any of the words I’ve used have negative or positive connotations, or even any attached feeling. It’s the way that they are put together that can achieve any effect, emotional or otherwise.
i like the one that said numbers make you happy
I actually really like this thread…and would of never thought about analyzing the happiness of a language without it.
>Completely agree with Cyraus. Its misleading as well as bias. I found no evidence supporting to this article.
>Can’t support such one way and short term research too.
>Sorry “dictionary.com” but the first time I got a non relevant article.
250,000??? Try tripling or almost quadrupling that number! Yes, that would be as a result of a lot of “borrowing,” but that’s just another wonderful thing about English. Regardless, counting the number of “positive words” will not prove that a language is happy.
BTW, the idea that the tones of certain languages are felt in the heart more so than in other languages is ludicrous. Abdel Shilbaya and Athena: any Intro to Linguistics class will help you see the problem with a statement like that.
i think every language has its happy words that make some one feel happy just like when my boyfriend says he LOVES me i get happy
P.s im new at this…im only 18:)
Wow! Someone in Vermont has a lot of time (and money) on their hands…
The decision to publish something has an inherent bias towards positive statements. We know that people don’t want to hear about something that is a downer most of the time. We are all happy on facebook! I’m not sure the premise of this study even makes sense.
English, according to a number of people I’ve talked to who learned it as a second or third tongue, is preferable, because one (more often than not) can say what he wants to say in fewer words, and/or because one can express it in so many different ways, with so many subtly-different connotations or nuances.
While I agree with y’all, they have a point. there are words that can make you happy. But the only words i care ’bout are the ones that come from the ones i love. To Hal happiness does come in mubers. All the people whi don’t ubderstand this just try to think ’bout what it means.
hmm happy language=happy people ??
Its an interesting study-a simple evaluation of an interesting thought when it comes down to it. Obviously it doesnt create inconclusive results-(and we know that wasnt the point of it)- but the results are worth pondering.
As for all of this, my opinion is more general and go ahead and refute. I feel on a larger spectrum that people as individuals are in control of their verbal positivity or diction despite the language they possess or are predominantly exposed to and any stereotype placed on it.
(Stereotypes make things unfair as they neglect to recognize individualism)
Ones personality or attitude and diction reflects their happiness yet happiness is first an individual choice and not soley defined by a language-a set or spoken words.
Overall I feel this topic is definately worth the flood of comments it provokes. Words/language are amazing things.
In Latin, there are almost twenty different ways to say the infinitive, “to kill.” So this study is certainly not pointless – it reveals a lot about the culture of the speakers of the language in study.
Happy ending, Oui?
I agree with their assumptions but wonder how do they allow for local variations in word meaning, as an example, the word bastard would be very unhappy in most places but in Australia (at times) can indicate great joy or friendship.
I love MY language, Twi!
Seriously, if happiness came from words themselves, then I’d eat a whole library of dictionaries and would have an audio of words playing 24/7…
But happiness isn’t in words, and it isn’t in the distant horizon where so many run after in their different ways. It’s something that’s always by us, ever willing to give itself to us – we only have to accept it. The crown of happiness is just over our heads, we just have to look up and take it. Even if your circumstances aren’t happy, you can still choose to take on the optimistic view in those rotten circumstances. Believe me, I know – even when faced with complete opposition, criticism, and other such storms, I still do my best to be bright and smile when I can. Often it’s been very hard…that’s when we gotta smile through the tears. =)
The place to be happy is here; the time to be happy is now.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
Depending on whether you ask me if I want to or if I have any objections, my answering “no” could be positive or negative. And “root canal” is negative or positive depending on whether I or somebody I can’t stand needs one. Without adding meaning as the dispositive factor, it seems pretty impossible to measure the positivity of any one word, let alone an entire language overall. Pardon my negativity.
Latin is the happiest language in my opinion- they have many, many, many words to describe love- agape, amare, eros… the list goes on.
language is relative but this survey is clever! but aren’t words like, to quote, “pregnant” and “alcohol”- most words for that matter- aren’t they subjective to whether YOU are positive or not? like other people, i think it’s mostly the person, not the language. also how big was the participant pool?
I agree that English is a positive language.
But, I think every language can be a positive language if spoken in the right way.
Just limiting the study to ‘content’ of the language is not enough. I agree with an earlier comment that talked about the ’sound’ of a language making one happy. I learned French at school and still pull out my old textbooks just to pronounce the words — very beautiful.
Also, the fact that ‘happy’ words appeared so much in English texts may actually reflect English speakers’ ongoing and sometimes futile search for happiness, hence the need to keep writing about it.
@Hal Actually, i find great pleasure in letters, and the words they create. I love to listen to people speak in French or Italian or any of the romance languages. I find joy in pronouncing words, and beating my friends in hang man.
Translation: I am a 13 year old weirdo who hates math and reads too much.
You’re not wrong!
I am POSITIVE that I would be HAPPIER if no tax dollars funded the study, but it was the University of Vemont, so… Were the people ranking the the words being paid? That might affect how HAPPY they were. Isn’t it FUNNY how mathematicians can be experts on language just by counting?
I don’t know if English is a happy language. However, I love English!
All interesting comments and views. I’m absolutely certain there will be as many of them as there are human beings who can express themselves clearly and intelligibly on the subject either +positively or -negatively!
But coming to cyraus, I’d like to point out the fact that the English language has crossed the 1,000,000-word mar some time ago in 2011!
I had trouble with this sentence from this post:
They picked the top 5,000 words from each source, which totaled 10,222 words.
Am I the only one?
I think English is inherently optimistic because of the presence of the Present Perfect Tense. Many languages do not have this.
“Have you been to Paris?”
“Not yet.” (But I may go some day, who knows, if I save my pennies)
All language is, by nature, positive, as it is communication, and a seeking to ameliorate the needs and concerns of people. As far as happiness, it depends on the person using it. One can dance with a sword, or one can bring it down like a caveman a club.
I don’t know what to say but it is possible that Bengali, the lang originated from Sanskrit, could be that what we/I just read to note. It has the positive qualities …; it sounds so very musical; it ends in rhyming more times than not if it is to be any positive factor for being happy sounding lang; and such. French is same, for this lang sounds pleasing! Or it is possible I didn’t understand what I just read.
English has more words than many other languages (partly because we borrow like crazy), so simple counts don’t mean much. I’m not sure any way of analyzing the language can give you a “happy” language. When we don’t have a word to express what we mean, we make one up, or we change the meaning of a word (which is why we have a few words that have directly opposite meanings, like “moot”). Maybe the best you can say is that some people use language “happily” although that could be interpreted as meaning about seventy different things.
Certain sounds in English are correctly pronounced with a smile. Perhaps that somehow correlates with the happiness factor of English words.
Actually, English is a very musical language, if you think about it’s up down rhythm. It sounds a lot like singing especially when correctly using the alternating long-short- long-short syllable lengths.
Regarding it’s being the most difficult language to learn, that depends upon what your first language is; however, spelling and pronunciation are difficult to learn if you don’t learn it from the beginning of your English studies. It is also one of the least rigid languages in the sense that there is no body that determines what words and grammar changes are acceptable. That decision is left to the speakers of English rather than a select group of people. Usage determines what is correct so that the English language changes more rapidly than most and has the largest vocabulary. http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/is-it-true-that-english-has-the-most-words-of-any-language
I HAVE PROVEN THIS TO MYSELF REPEATEDLY, THAT A PERSON’S ATTITUDE ABOUT LIFE IS UNDERSTOOD BY THE FEQUENCY HE USES SOME WORDS. ONCE I SUDDENLY THOT I WILL APPLY THAT TO MYSELF. READING SOME OF MY OLD E-MAILS I FIND MY FAVORITE WORDS ARE……. FUN, FUNNY, LAUGH.
I WAS GRATIFIED TO KNOW I ACTUALLY HAVE A VERY POSITIVE OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND DON’T TAKE IT VERY SERIOUSLY.
TRY IT YOURSELF AND LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU FIND, IT WILL BE LOTS OF FUN. GRAMA
Having experience in several foreign languages (German, Russian, and Arabic) I can say that English is less-harsh sounding and we have more words to explain situations. Russian will use one word to describe actions or several words. While some of the three languages that I just mentioned have musical intonations and require inflection, I feel that English, when spoken, is more fluid. English compared to German and Russian does not have harsh consonants and gives off an attitude. I like them though . I don’t know the exact numbers on this, but from speaking and reading German, it seems like the ratio of consonants to vowels is very high and the same with Russian.
Arabic and English are very similar as some English language is borrowed from Arabic (mascara, alcohol, alcove, akaline, etc). I think that Arabic is a lovely language, and has very passionate speakers which may get in the way of people hearing the musical sounds coming from it. Croatian, French and Spanish are very singy.
I don’t think that any language is inherently any more positive or negative than any other, though I would imagine that in any negative social or political situation where many people are suffering corruption, repression, or poverty the frequency of use of words with negative connotations would increase. English-speaking countries tend to suffer fewer of these situations than, say, Spanish-speaking countries. On the other hand, some languages are possibly more ‘affectionate’ than others, and you could argue that the use of the diminutive in Spanish (un cafecito, pescadito, muchachito) in Spanish allows for more affectionate expression than in English, though that is an arguable point. English, on the other other hand is perhaps more precise overall. The first poster said that English is a rigid language. It may not be more positive or affectionate, but one thing that it certainly is not is rigid. I speak Spanish and German and they are definitely more rigid than English, with a strict grammatical structures where the subjunctive plays an important role and gender is an important requisite. In those languages the grammatical role of a word in a sentence probably changes which word you use, whereas in English you probably just use one word regardless of the grammar – just take the word ‘the’ as an example, four different words for ‘the’ in Spanish and maybe as many as twelve in German, depending on gender and grammatical function. Anglo-Saxon and Latin are both grammatically complex and rigid, but English over the centuries has become far less rigid grammatically and as far as vocabulary is concerned the flexibility of English (the ease with which it creates and accepts new words) is perhaps unparalleled among languages throughout the world. An important difference between English and some other European languages is the absence of an Academy of Language which in other languages has to officially evaluate and approve words before they enter the dictionary. English may be many things, but one thing it certainly isn’t, in general, is rigid.
i sPEk englsn good me now how spek langage happy
Linguists won’t agree with the idea. Languages are different and there are no single language which will be superior than others. The major reason we use English is due to the envirement we live. Since English has become an international language for politics, economy and other stuffs, using English will be more convenient for us to communicate with others. Each language is unique. Learning more languages other than English is helpful. Each language also shows words for happiness and sorrows. Why should we stick to the fcous of usage of English?
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Seriously? With all the problems we face in the world–let alone in the U.S.–this is what is researched? I wonder if those people who send sums of money to UVM for research know this is the kind of useless drivel it goes toward?? This is really disappointing–it doesn’t even warrant a conversation thread. I’m embarrassed by the thought that I live in Vermont after reading this.
It is really interesting that the study has been made on the American English (at least in its significant part). Possibly, if purely British sources were used, it might give a bit another picture (a hypothesis). Another relevant thing: what kind of source texts have been chosen, what their purport is. In sales texts, e.g., you’ll find many more “positive” words convincing you to buy this or that, than negative words. In the modern society, programming its citizens ion a positive way, using “politically correct” language, abounding in selling ideas, projects, things and events, civilized restrictions laid on people’s behaviour, what can you expect if not a most happy result? Have you spoken to a telephone salesman? “That’s great”, “that’s fantastic”, “Awesome”, “Marvellous”… What are Twitter or Facebook for? To sell or to angle after recognition and admiration – it is quite understandable we find massive positive radiation of the language used there… What about irony? Was there a filter for “positive” expressions used ironically?..
spanish is alsome puerto ricans on deck lol:)
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” D.H. Lawrence. And for corroboration wallow in Dashell Hammett’s novels, it’s hard to pick yourself up after those gore fests. A lyrical people? Please. Any joy we have is borrowed from black culture or an offshoot of the Europeans. We murder without conscience as Kurt Vonnegut,Jr. knew full well. Now mindlessness, that’s pretty well-attested to also. But being remorseless cannot be synonymous with ‘optimistic’ no way, no how.
YOOOOOOO MIDA PEDRO WHATS YOUR LAST NAME ?
I think that some commenters are misunderstanding the crux of the article.
This isn’t an argument for whether English is somehow more beautiful than other languages or not, nor is it an argument to measure whether the subjects involved in the study are positive or negative themselves, or whether the culture is positive or negative from which these measurments were derived from.
Like the title of the article states, the study is attempting to quantify and thus measure the innate aspects of words in the English language, and contends that English, like other languages, has innate positive aspects that set it apart from other languages. The reality is that what isn’t clear is what specific languages exist (or even once existed) that are not innately positive, and in that way the article fails to be clear.
Sure, there are both positive and negative words in English, just like in all languages, but by no means does that mean that there’s an argument being made that this study therefore proves that English is somehow “better” or “more beautiful” or “more meaningful” to their native speakers than other languages, nor does it open itself up to the opposite conclusion.
This is a topic that is close to my heart… Thank you! Where are your contact details though?
Seems like the broader question is whether or not there CAN be anything INNATE about language; language is a function of the mind and of its use in mass culture. So, I think it’s a question of whether humans are innately positive or not.
But, a more objective, quantifiable approach might be to compare the number of negative or positive words in English and other languages; has anyone noticed, by the way, that there seems to be an innordinate number of English words of the like “berate,” “chastise” “castigate” etc. — generally to “criticize or reprimand severely”?
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