Faculty Publications

Semantic Components Of Laughter Behavior: A Lexical Field Study Of 14 Translations Of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Document Type



laugh, lexical field theory, multilingual aligned corpus, semantic features, smile

Journal/Book/Conference Title



This paper builds on a novel methodology of lexical semantics exemplified on lexical field theory by using several translations of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The present study, a large-scale collaboration, presents and compares the results for laugh, smile, grin, giggle, and other words for laughter behaviors across 14 languages and in extensive detail. The key results answer the question of what semantic dimensions the vocabularies of the various languages distinguish as marked by lexical contrasts and can inform future research in humor as well as translation studies. Based on our findings, a key marking emerges for audible (e.g., laugh) versus non-audible (e.g., smile) behaviors, as Indo-European vocabularies treat smiling as a less marked variant of laughing, e.g., German lächeln, Italian sorridere, Polish uśmiech, Turkish gülüm, but further orthogonal dimensions are documented as well, for example, aggressive, concealed, loud, or suppressed behavior. An updated hierarchy of these semantic features is proposed, and the results are presented in graphic visualizations, which also help illustrate idiosyncrasies of individual languages that go against the general trends. Exceptions to these general trends include lemmata that can cover both audible and inaudible behavior straddling what we claimed is the most important distinction (e.g., Danish grine). Finally, we outline a probabilistic method to compare word senses across languages based on aligned corpora large enough for computational approaches.


Department of Languages and Literatures

Original Publication Date


DOI of published version