Anthropology Language and Emotion
Sonya Pritzker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0189


Emotion has been defined, over the centuries, in various ways by psychologists, neuroscientists, and other researchers. Generally speaking, these researchers promote the understanding of emotion as a biologically based, subjective response to events in the objective world. Sociocultural and linguistic anthropologists, on the other hand, have focused on the ways in which emotion is variably and socially constructed through culturally variable expectations about behavior, relationships, and self-presentation. Language plays a central role in much of this work, though specific anthropologists approach the issue of language and emotion from vastly different angles. Although there is no standardized, codified understanding of emotion in anthropology, this bibliographic entry focuses on references from works where scholars specifically interrogate the intersection between language and emotion. In this body of work, emotion is also sometimes described in terms of “affect,” “feeling,” or “sentiment.” Setting aside for the moment issues of distinguishing emotion from affect and other terms, this entry includes a broad set of key annotated references for works focusing on the role of language in the development, management, and experience of emotion from linguistic and sociocultural anthropologists as well as scholars in related disciplines.


There are several academic peer-reviewed journals dedicated to interdisciplinary research on emotion. Of these, Emotion Review and Cognition and Emotion regularly publish articles offering an anthropological perspective on language and emotion. Journals specific to the discipline of anthropology are less focused in terms of topic, but there are several that regularly publish ethnographic research on language and emotion. Ethos, published by the Society for Psychological Anthropology (SPA), includes a great deal of interdisciplinary work that, very generally speaking, emphasizes the interaction between individual/psychological and cultural processes. Studies of emotion and culture are represented heavily in Ethos, some of which focus in whole or in part on language and emotion. The Journal of Linguistic Anthropology is dedicated to peer-reviewed publications of works on language and culture, and often includes articles specifically focused on language and emotion. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry is geared toward the interdisciplinary study of illness and its treatment in various cultural settings. Articles here frequently discuss emotion and the language of feeling as part of the experience of disease. American Ethnologist publishes anthropological research on a broad range of topics by scholars in all four subfields of anthropology. Work in sociocultural anthropology tends to be featured most here, and some of the many articles on emotion and culture in this journal include at least some discussion of language.

  • American Ethnologist. 1974–.

    This is the flagship journal of the American Ethnological Association. It is broadly focused on ethnographic and ethnological work with a theoretical orientation, some of which includes anthropological analyses of language and emotion.

  • Cognition and Emotion. 1987–.

    This journal is oriented to the study of cognition as it relates to emotion. As such, featured articles include work primarily in psychology and related disciplines. Anthropological research at the intersection of language, emotion, and neuroscience is very much in the purview of this publication, however.

  • Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. 1977–.

    This interdisciplinary journal publishes work from research in medical/psychological anthropology, cross-cultural psychiatry, and related fields. Their content ranges from discussion of theoretical and methodological approaches for understanding psychiatric illness and its treatment in the context of culture to in-depth research on cross-cultural systems of care. Articles specifically focused on language and emotion are often included. Due to the centrality of both language and emotion to psychiatric and cultural concerns, other articles also frequently discuss the topic in some way.

  • Emotion Review. 2009–.

    This is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal published in association with the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE). Anthropological research on language and emotion is regularly included, alongside work from scholars in psychology, linguistics, sociology, and other fields.

  • Ethos. 1973–.

    This is the official journal of the SPA. Ethos articles often emphasize the theorization of the individual in culture, and commonly draw in literature from psychology, psychobiology, and philosophy. It is an excellent resource for work that examines the intersection between language and emotion, especially in terms of embodied experience, issues of morality, and the anthropological theorization of personhood in the context of culture.

  • Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 1990–.

    Organized by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, this publication focuses on all aspects of interaction and culture. With an emphasis on work that includes theoretical analysis of detailed interview and ethnographic video-data, this journal is the home of many extensive articles specifically focused on the study of language and emotion from an anthropological point of view.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.