Monday, October 5, 2015

Having Emotions

The German-speaking Swiss are famously serious folks, but never let it be said that they lack emotion.  Indeed, they're practically bursting with the stuff. Why?

The earnest anthropologist is sometimes overwhelmed by the frequency with which usually staid advertisements invoke 'emotion.'  The same word that sells condoms to the Swiss also sells them family cars, or registration for the local marathon. This makes tracking the semiotic in- and ex-tensions of the word very difficult, and leads to a disturbingly profound (and damnably elusive) question: what, exactly, are Swiss emotions?

The linguistic anthropologist finds fertile ground in the word 'Emotion,' since, although it translates directly to the English emotion, in German it carries an entirely different set of connotations.  This is a fine example of the Helvetian habit of importing English words, the better to exploit their symbolic value as excitingly exotic.

It also alerts us to a more subtle but altogether more important answer:  while the Swiss value control and social harmony, their native language - indeed their native cultural aesthetic - lacks the vocabulary to capture what is meant by the foreign 'emotion.'  The latter, in Switzerland, is a portal to romanticism, adventure, sensuality, and often a vaguely spiritual otherness.

Truly autochthonous feelings, therefore, are discussed in the local language, while the other sort can be altogether more safely bandied about in arms-length Swinglish.  A good Swiss might occasionally be miffed that a train is late, or pleased to see Federer take another title, but is as a rule not overcome with emotion.

So it is that we learn that the Swiss find it far easier to talk about someone else's emotions.

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