Putting feelings into words: Do Moroccan EFL learners describe feelings based on visual stimuli as native speakers of English?

Khalid El Asri, Faculty of Education Sciences, Mohammed V University, Morocco, ID LLCE2018-302;            Abstract: Human emotions have been studied from different perspectives in various fields including linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology. Cross-linguistic research on emotion shows that there are similarities and differences in the conceptualization of emotions across cultures. Studies in linguistic anthropology, as well as cultural psychology have enabled us to trace the source of cross-cultural differences in emotions. In particular, cultures differ in values they assign to certain emotions, antecedents that give rise to emotions, appraisal, emotional intensity, display rules and regulation.

Thus, emotion terms of a language seldom have exact equivalents in other languages. For example, in English, whose emotion lexicon has extensively been studied by means of comparison with other languages, emotion categories such as ‘sadness’ or ‘anger’ are highly relevant to the speakers of this language and they are, therefore, culture specific. On the other hand, there are emotion concepts that are not lexicalized in English as is the case, for example, with the German word “Schadenfreude” (Pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune). Moreover, it is also reported that other languages do not have lexical and conceptual equivalence of English basic emotion terms, such as ‘happiness,’ ‘fear,’ ‘surprise,’ ‘sadness,’ ‘disgust’, ‘depression’, and ‘anxiety’.

Considering the languages investigated in this study, differences in the conceptualization of emotions between English and Moroccan Arabic are likely to be greater since both varieties belong to distinct cultural dimensions, namely individualism and collectivism. Findings of a comparative study (El asri, in press), that involved fifty English emotion terms, revealed that Moroccan Arabic has near equivalents, partial equivalents, and no equivalents of these terms. Accordingly, it was hypothesized that Moroccan learners’ description of feelings in English would be facilitated by similarities between L1 and L2, but it would be hindered by differences. In other words, in the scenes that involve the use of near equivalent terms, the learners would use emotion terms as native speakers; but it would be difficult for them to perform as native speakers in scenes that involve emotion terms with partial or no equivalents in L1.

To verify this hypothesis, two footages were used as visual stimuli. Responses were collected from a total of 181 participants: 60 native speakers, 58 advanced ESL learners, and 63 intermediate EFL learners. The participants in each group were asked to watch the two footages and describe how the actors feel at some suggested scenes by using one emotion word.

The results revealed that advanced Moroccan learners of English had rich emotion vocabularies and many of their lexical choices approximated those of native speakers. They nevertheless continued experiencing difficulties in describing the emotions of others and, consequently, differed from native speakers of English in some of their lexical choices. These difficulties are manifested, as we hypothesized, in the use of some emotion terms that have partial equivalents and no equivalents in the learners’ L1. Based on these findings, some pedagogical implications are suggested.


KeywordsAcquisition, culture, emotion terms, lexical equivalence.



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