A Rose By Any Other Name Might Make You Angry

Do different languages evoke different emotions? That's the question posed by Times blogger Olivia Judson, inspired by research that shows just making a certain vowel sound can affect your mood.

Judson speculates that saying "eeee" makes you "start to smile" (that's apparently why we say "cheese" in photographs), and the act of smiling can make us happy, saying words with "e" sounds might make us happy as well. And other sounds can produce different feelings. Judson describes a study that found "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."

So do languages with more a than ü for happier speakers? Certainly Italians, with all their -a and -o endings, are said to be garrulous and fun-loving, Germans more dour. But these are just stereotypes, and as someone whose second language is, um, Latin, I'm not qualified to judge the happy-making potential of any spoken tongue besides English. Perhaps bilingual commenters can help me out with this — do you find that you're jollier in one language than another? Relatedly, are some words funnier or sadder than others, irrespective of their meaning? I know a lot of people who find "oi" sounds gross, as in "moist" and "ointment." And I'm in agreement with Judson that "e" sounds are kind of funny — try saying "beekeeper" a bunch of times. But I'm not sure I can think of any words that evoke sorrow, except, with its low moan of an ending, "sorrow" itself.

A Language Of Smiles [NYT]