World favours happy words

The Pollyanna hypothesis, which claims that most people, regardless of cultural or sociolinguistic background, use positive words more often than negative words has been backed up by a new study

First put forward in the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour in 1969, the hypothesis now has supporting evidence from a recent University of Vermont (UVM) study. A team of researchers created an extensive database of languages from around the world and discovered a clear bias towards words associated with positivity.

The researchers, from UVM’s Computational Story Lab, asked around 5 million native speakers of ten languages to rate 100,000 frequently used words on a happiness scale and concluded: “Words, the atoms of human language, present an emotional spectrum with a universal positive bias.”

But not all languages were found to be equal. While Spanish, Portuguese and English topped the list as the happiest languages, Chinese had least bias towards positive words.

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The researchers have also set up an interactive site where you can analyse the texts of novels such as Moby Dick, Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, and see the distribution of positive and negative words. The feature allows you to select different sections of the text and see which words have the most influence in setting the tone of the story.

This article was first published by Mic.