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The Language of Anger
December 27, 2002

"A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book." –Irish proverb


In an insightful article for the July 2002 issue of Child Care Information Exchange, Carlos Juan Merrero explores the complex interaction of language, culture and emotion as we respond to challenging situations. He introduces this discussion by observing:

"Our language of emotion has not been left to chance; rather, it is highly organized and systematically tied to our development as social persons. The consistencies we observe in our emotional lives are not the result of pure genetic determination or brute observation, but rather reflect our personal learning histories. The language of emotion pervasive in all our relationships is rooted in life-long interactions between our biological and cultural heritages. It is for this reason that we must walk away from an approach to emotion that perceives it as following inevitable, inalterable developmental progressions beyond our influence. 

"We have a language of emotion precisely because it takes language to shape human interactions and human emotions in fundamental ways. The moment infants discover they can mirror their internal status through their vocalizations, our journey towards linguistic regulation of our inner life and our social systems begins. As development progresses, children become capable of reporting on their feelings, manipulating the feelings of others, and even engaging in complex forms of deception. A few years into this process, they will formulate complex 'theories' of psychological events that underpin the regulation of their emotions and grounds their relationships to other persons on systematic understandings of what motivates them. Apprehension of the emotional lives of others effectively ends childhood egocentricity and inaugurates a form of social engagement without parallel in the natural world.

"However, accidental and normative discoveries children make do not account for all we know about emotions. Reviews of ethnographic case studies reveal that categories of emotion do not emerge in all human communities in exactly the same ways,...and that emotion categories we take for granted as speakers of English may be 'missing' in other language systems. We also find the language of non-English speakers are often stocked with lexical references that have no counterparts in our own language, suggesting a somewhat different focus and orientation of emotion work in those communities. This cultural shaping of categorical systems appears to be in evidence in a great many areas of human thinking; most of our categorical systems follow this path toward increasing, instrumental diversification, and in most cases cultural systems play a pivotal role in their ultimate shape and capacity...."

You can download the complete text of this article by going to the "Free Resources from Exchange" section of www.ChildCareExchange.com.


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