Language Alter Ego

Emotion of fear across languages and cultures

It's Halloween time. Fear is one of the universal emotions that all human beings share. Still, the way how it's expressed and perceived depends on the socio-cultural context. I've gathered here a few examples across the world how via language and culture the emotion of fear is conveyed.

English culture tends to value a sense of composure and stoicism, even in the face of fear. Individuals may try to hide their fear or anxiety and maintain a calm exterior. The English may display fear with more subtle facial expressions, such as raised eyebrows, widened eyes, or a slightly tense mouth. They may not show extreme or exaggerated facial expressions of fear. Quite opposite, fear may be expressed with minimal physical contact, as personal space and boundaries are respected. Still, the English language has many expressions and idioms related to fear, such as "scared stiff," "spine-chilling," "afraid of the dark," and "a chill down my spine." Moreover, English culture has its share of folklore and urban legends that play on fears and superstitions. Tales of ghosts, monsters, and unexplained phenomena contribute to the cultural understanding of fear.

In Japan, it is considered impolite to show strong emotions, including fear, in public. Therefore, Japanese people often try to maintain a calm and composed demeanour even in fearful situations. When feeling fear or discomfort, Japanese individuals may avert their eyes or lower their gaze as a sign of respect and humility. Raised eyebrows and widened eyes are subtle signs of fear or surprise in Japanese culture. A forced smile or a nervous laugh may be used to cover up feelings of fear or unease. In Japanese culture, the term "kowai" (怖い) is commonly used to express fear. Japanese folklore is filled with tales of yokai, which are often depicted as mischievous or malevolent creatures. Yokai are supernatural creatures or monsters in Japanese folklore. Ghost stories (kaidan) are also prevalent, and they often evoke feelings of fear and suspense. These tales are passed down through generations and contribute to the cultural understanding of fear. These cultural traits are also one of the reasons why the Japanese horror movies are so scary.

Spaniards are generally quite expressive with their emotions, including fear. They may use more pronounced facial expressions and body language to convey their feelings. Wide-open eyes and raised eyebrows are common facial expressions of fear in Spanish culture. Spaniards may use gestures such as covering their mouths with their hands or holding their hands to their chests when feeling fearful or anxious. In social settings, Spanish individuals may openly express fear or discomfort through verbal communication and vocal tones. Spanish has numerous idioms and expressions related to fear, such as "tener miedo" (to be afraid), "dar miedo" (to be scary), and "temerario" (reckless or daring). These expressions are commonly used to describe feelings of fear or to talk about frightening situations. To some extent, religion may play a significant role in some Spanish families, and fear can be expressed and dealt with through religious practices. Some people may seek solace and comfort in their faith when facing fear or uncertainty.

In Arabic-speaking cultures, expressing emotions, including fear, openly is generally acceptable. Arabic speakers may use hand gestures such as clutching their chest or covering their mouth when feeling scared or anxious. They may become more animated in their speech. In Arabic-speaking cultures, fear can be expressed using the term "خوف" (khawf). Islamic culture may also have specific expressions related to fear and reverence towards God. For example, "Ya Allah" (يا الله). This phrase means "O Allah" and is used as a direct address to seek help, guidance, or protection from Allah. This expression with the others are used by Muslim Arabic-speakers to express their fear, reverence, and devotion towards Allah in various aspects of their lives. They reflect the central role that faith and spirituality play in the lives of Muslims and their relationship with the divine.

In Chinese culture, expressing emotions, including fear, openly is generally less common. Chinese people may be more reserved with their facial expressions and body language, especially in public settings. They may use subtle facial expressions to convey fear, such as slightly widened eyes and raised eyebrows, but they are unlikely to display strong or exaggerated expressions. Body language may also be more restrained, with individuals trying to maintain composure and avoid showing strong emotions in front of others. Chinese speakers may use more indirect communication to express fear, relying on context and non-verbal cues rather than explicitly stating their emotions. In Chinese, the term "害怕" (hàipà) is used to express fear. Chinese culture has a lot of symbols and myths related to fear. Ghost Month (鬼月): In Chinese tradition, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is known as Ghost Month, during which the gates of the afterlife are believed to open, and spirits roam freely in the human world. Many people avoid risky activities and refrain from going out at night during this month to avoid encounters with malevolent spirits. Meanwhile, the legend of White Snake (白蛇传) tells the story of a white snake who transforms into a beautiful woman and falls in love with a mortal man. The tale explores themes of love, fear, and the clash between the human and spirit worlds.

African cultures are diverse, and expressions of fear can vary widely across different regions and tribes. However, in many African cultures, expressing emotions, including fear, openly is a norm. African tribes have a rich and diverse set of rituals and beliefs associated with fear of spirits or supernatural entities that have been passed to the modern generations. For example, the Yoruba people in Nigeria have a complex belief system that includes various deities and spirits. They perform elaborate rituals and ceremonies to honour these spirits and seek their protection from the evil. They also believe in the power of divination to communicate with the spirits and gain insight into the future. Meanwhile, across many cultures on the African continent can be seen a strong belief in the power of the ancestors to protect living people from the evil.

By learning some of these peculiarities, it is easier to understand how to build a dialogue with a person from another culture. Especially, when you believe that the emotion of fear is the same for everyone on this planet.