Perceiving and responding to embarrassing predicaments across languages: Cultural influences on the mental lexicon

Mental Lexicon 3 (1):121-147 (2008)
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The experience of embarrassment was explored in two experiments comparing monolingual and bilingual speakers from cultures varying in the degree of elabo- ration of the embarrassment lexicon. In Experiment 1, narratives in English or Korean depicting three types of embarrassing predicaments were to be rated on their embarrassability and humorousness by Korean-English bilinguals, Korean monolinguals, and Euro-American monolinguals. All groups judged certain predicaments (involving social gaffes) to be the most embarrassing. However, significant group and language differences occurred in judgments of the inten- sity of embarrassment and amusement judgments evoked. Euro-Americans ex- hibited higher overall levels of amusement than the two Korean groups who, in turn, reported higher levels of embarrassment, particularly for certain predica- ment types and contexts (ingroup members present). Further, for the bilinguals, inept performance predicaments in English were judged more embarrassing than those in Korean, whereas all predicament types were judged more amusing when framed with English emotion labels. Bilinguals also appeared to show a heightened embarrassability relative to both monolingual groups. Experiment 2 found lexical selection differences in open-ended responses to embarrassing predicaments depicted in each language, with Euro-Americans preferring to give justifications or use humor to minimize the embarrassment and Korean-English bilinguals preferring to give apologies or say nothing. The findings are interpret- ed to reflect the influence of culturally-mediated schemas guiding the activation and processing of emotion vocabulary.

Author Profiles

Hyun Suk Choi
Hanyang University
J. Vaid
Texas A&M University


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