Happiness in the eye and the heart: Somatic referencing in West African emotion lexica

Vivian Afi Dzokoto, Sumie Okazaki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although many theories about the structure of emotion have been developed, none of them seem to adequately explain the African experience. This study examined the folk emotion lexica of two indigenous West African languages. Fifty monolingual Fante speakers and 50 monolingual Dagbani speakers from rural and semirural Ghana participated in focus groups to generate words in their native language that they use to describe experiences that involve emotions. Qualitative analysis of the emotion lexica generated by the focus group participants revealed frequent somatic referencing in the emotion talk of Fante and Dagbani, although there were differences in the specific body parts mentioned in references to various emotional experiences. The ubiquity of somatic referents in the expression of African emotions suggests that future theories of emotion structure may need to incorporate the concept of embodiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-140
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Black Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Africa
  • Emotion
  • Language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Applied Psychology


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