, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 107-120,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 21 Jan 2009

Recognizing Emotions in a Foreign Language

Abstract

Expressions of basic emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust) can be recognized pan-culturally from the face and it is assumed that these emotions can be recognized from a speaker’s voice, regardless of an individual’s culture or linguistic ability. Here, we compared how monolingual speakers of Argentine Spanish recognize basic emotions from pseudo-utterances (“nonsense speech”) produced in their native language and in three foreign languages (English, German, Arabic). Results indicated that vocal expressions of basic emotions could be decoded in each language condition at accuracy levels exceeding chance, although Spanish listeners performed significantly better overall in their native language (“in-group advantage”). Our findings argue that the ability to understand vocally-expressed emotions in speech is partly independent of linguistic ability and involves universal principles, although this ability is also shaped by linguistic and cultural variables.