Do our languages skew toward happiness?

Eoin O'Carroll in The Christian Science Monitor:

SmileAre humans inherently happy, sad, or somewhere in between? A new study suggests that, at least when it comes to our vocabulary, we tend to look on the bright side of life. A team of mathematicians, computer scientists, and linguists at the University of Vermont and the MITRE Corporation combed through 10 languages' literature, movie subtitles, music lyrics, and, of course, Web pages and social media feeds, collecting an estimated 100 billion words from Twitter alone. The team used this data – from 24 types of sources in all – to draw up lists of the 10,000 most common words in each language. Then, the researchers had native speakers of each language rate their emotional response to each word on a 9-point scale, from saddest to happiest. For each of the 10,000 words of each language, the scientists collected 50 ratings, for a total of about 5 million scores.

The result? Every source averaged above 5. Our words, which the study's authors describe as “the atoms of human language,” reveal a “universal positivity bias.” “In every source we looked at,” said UVM mathematician Peter Dodds in a press release, “people use more positive words than negative ones.” All of the languages seemed to skew positive, but some did so more than others. In descending order of happiness, they are: Spanish, Portuguese, English, Indonesian, French, German, Arabic, Russian, Korean, and Chinese.

More here.