“Pain” and “suffering” in cross-linguistic perspective

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This chapter builds on findings of the author’s 1999 book Emotions Across Languages and Cultures: Diversity and Universals, which tentatively identified eleven universals pertaining to human emotions. The chapter probes some of those “emotional universals” further, especially in relation to “laughing”, “crying”, and “pain”. At the same time, the author continues her campaign against pseudo-universals, focussing in particular on the anthropological and philosophical discourse of “suffering”. The chapter argues for the Christian origins of the concept of “suffering” lexically embodied in European languages, and contrasts it with the Buddhist concept of “dukkha”, usually rendered in Anglophone discussions of Buddhism with the word suffering.


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