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Spanish is the world's happiest language

Scientists say the mostly positive tendency of language suggests human evolution has favored words that promote social cohesion.

By
Brooks Hays
An amusement park in China features a giant Love display. File Photo by UPI/Stephen Shaver.
An amusement park in China features a giant "Love" display. File Photo by UPI/Stephen Shaver. | License Photo

BURLINGTON, Vt., Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A massive study of the emotional connotations of the world's most commonly used words reveals that humans prefer the expression of positivity and joy over sadness and cynicism.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Vermont's Computational Story Lab, located the 100,000 of the most frequently used words -- uttered and written on Twitter and TV, in song lyrics, the New York Times and movie titles -- across the world's 10 most popular languages.

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The team of researchers, led by Peter Sheridan Dodds, then had native speakers rank a selection of the world's most popular words on a nine-point emotional scale -- with 1 being the most negative or saddest, 5 being neutral and 9 being the most positive or happiest.

"We looked at ten languages, and in every source we looked at, people use more positive words than negative ones," Dodds, a mathematician, explained in a press release.

Researchers found that wielders of the world's most popular languages tend to prefer happier words than those with negative connotations. But some languages trend happier than others. Spanish proved the happiest, researchers found, with Brazilian Portuguese, English and Indonesian rounding out the top five.

Researchers acknowledge having only touched the surface of the emotional trajectory of language, but are confident their research has set up useful parameters for future studies -- studies involving less common languages and the analysis of phrases instead just individual words.

"The study's findings are based on 5 million individual human scores and pave the way for the development of powerful language-based tools for measuring emotion," the study's authors wrote in the abstract of their new paper, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But scientists say the mostly positive tendency of language suggests human evolution has favored words that promote social cohesion, and diminished the linguistic repertoire of naysayers.

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