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A lexical exploration of wellbeing among London’s language communities

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Abstract

Although London’s multicultural nature is often celebrated, this ideal has come under challenge, especially post-Brexit. Consequently, there is need for a greater appreciation of the nature and value of cultural diversity in London. An innovative means to achieving this is through studying untranslatable words, which reveal phenomena that have been overlooked in English but identified by other languages. Over the past three years, the author has been constructing a lexicography of untranslatable words relating to wellbeing (www.drtimlomas.com/lexicography). Building on this on-going project, this presentation showcases the results of a new BA/Leverhulme funded study conducted across 2018-2019. The study involves the elicitation of videoblogs from speakers of the approximately 300 languages in London about untranslatable words in their language(s) relating to wellbeing, plus in-depth interviews with select speakers, with blogs and interviews analysed thematically, thereby providing a conceptual ‘map’ of the data. The research will enhance our understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity in London, as seen through the prism of wellbeing.
Positive cross-cultural lexicography
Collecting untranslatable words
216 words initially
Analysed using grounded theory
Development of thematic structure
www.drtimlomas.com/lexicography
Now nearly 1200 words
Creating a ‘map’ of wellbeing
Experiential cartography
Language: navigate experiential world
Construct boundaries
Influenced by culture (Sapir-Whorf)
Untranslatable words = varying boundaries
Shapes perception & experience
Cross-cultural differences
A map of wellbeing
Publications (overviews)
Initial paper
Lomas, T. (2016). Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography:
Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 untranslatable
words pertaining to wellbeing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11(5),
546-558.
Theoretical paper
Lomas, T. (2018). Experiential cartography, and the significance of
untranslatable words. Theory & Psychology, 28(4), 476495.
Overarching analysis
Lomas, T. (2018). Translating Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Lexicon of
Wellbeing. Boston: MIT Press.
Lomas, T. (2018). The Happiness Dictionary: Untranslatable Words from
Around the World to Help Us Lead a Richer Life. London: Piatkus.
Publications (categories)
Lomas, T. (2017). The spectrum of positive affect: A cross-cultural
lexical analysis. International Journal of Wellbeing, 7(3), 1-18.
Lomas, T. (2018). The value of ambivalent emotions: A cross-
cultural lexical analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology. doi:
10.1080/14780887.2017.1400143
Lomas, T. (2018). The flavours of love: A cross-cultural lexical
analysis. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 48(1), 134-152.
Lomas, T. (2018). The dimensions of prosociality: A cross-cultural
lexical analysis. doi: 10.1007/s12144-018-0067-5
Lomas, T. (2019). The roots of virtue: A cross-cultural lexical
analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20(4), 1259-1279.
Lomas, T. (2019). The dynamics of spirituality: A cross-cultural
lexical analysis. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 11(2), 131-140
New directions
British Academy / Leverhulme small research grant
Focus on language communities in London
London’s multicultural nature is often celebrated
Ideal challenged especially post-Brexit
Need for a greater appreciation of cultural diversity
Happy words project
‘Happy words project’ page: Instagram and Facebook
Encourage engagement through ‘word of the day’
Elicit 30 second videos from participants
Describe an untranslatable word in context
Work in progress (finishing in Sept 2020)
Thank you for listening
Any questions?
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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How embracing untranslatable terms for well-being -- from the Finnish sisu to the Yiddish mensch -- can enrich our emotional understanding and experience. Western psychology is rooted in the philosophies and epistemologies of Western culture. But what of concepts and insights from outside this frame of reference? Certain terms not easily translatable into English -- for example, nirvāṇa (from Sanskrit), or agápē (from Classical Greek), or turangawaewae (from Māori) -- are rich with meaning but largely unavailable to English-speaking students and seekers of wellbeing. In this book, Tim Lomas argues that engaging with "untranslatable" terms related to well-being can enrich not only our understanding but also our experience. We can use these words, Lomas suggests, to understand and express feelings and experiences that were previously inexpressible. Lomas examines 400 words from 80 languages, arranges them thematically, and develops a theoretical framework that highlights the varied dimensions of well-being and traces the connections between them. He identifies three basic dimensions of well-being -- feelings, relationships, and personal development -- and then explores each in turn through untranslatable words. Ânanda, for example, usually translated as bliss, can have spiritual associations in Buddhist and Hindu contexts; kefi in Greek expresses an intense emotional state -- often made more intense by alcohol. The Japanese concept of koi no yokan means a premonition or presentiment of love, capturing the elusive and vertiginous feeling of being about to fall for someone, imbued with melancholy and uncertainty; the Yiddish term mensch has been borrowed from its Judaic and religious connotations to describe an all-around good human being; and Finnish offers sisu -- inner determination in the face of adversity. Expanding the lexicon of well-being in this way showcases the richness of cultural diversity while reminding us powerfully of our common humanity. Lomas's website, www.drtimlomas.com/lexicography, allows interested readers to contribute their own words and interpretations.
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Have you ever had a feeling that you couldn't quite describe, because no English word exists for it? Indeed, without such a word, it's difficult to remember or understand the feeling, and to talk about it with other people. This applies to all aspects of life, but most of all that most sought-after of feelings, happiness, where our ability to both experience and understand it is limited by the words at our disposal. However, all is not lost. Even if English has not created a word for a specific feeling, another language probably has. These are known as 'untranslatable' words, because they lack an exact equivalent in another language. By discovering and learning these words, the boundaries of our world expand accordingly. These words allow us to give voice to feelings that we've probably experienced, but have previously lacked the ability to conceptualise. They may even allow us to encounter new feelings that we hadn't previously been aware of or enjoyed. This book will introduce you to a wealth of untranslatable words relating to happiness, from languages across the world. Reading it will enrich not just your understanding of happiness, but also the way that you experience it.