The Winner of the Happiest Language Is…


Over the last million years, human language has emerged and evolved as a fundamental instrument of social communication.  People use language in part to convey emotional information, leading researchers to the questions: What is the emotional spectrum of natural language and is it inherently neutral, positive or negative?

These researchers found that indeed over 10,000 of the most frequently used English words exhibit a clear positive bias.

Here, they reported that the human-perceived emotion of over 10,000 of the most frequently used English words exhibits a clear positive bias. As shown in the figure below, they found that this positivism held true in all four datasets regardless of frequency of word use.


So this study showed that English was positively positive.  But what about other languages?  A more recent publication by the Academy of Sciences revealed that human language has a universal bias towards positivism, and out of all the languages tested, Spanish was the happiest.

The source of the big data required to test these ideas is obtained from on-line sources such as Twitter, GoogleBooks and other media outlets.  Researchers were able to measure the positivity bias in the 100,000 most frequently used words of 10 different languages – English, Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, Korean, Chinese (simplified), Russian, Indonesian, and Arabic. The words were scored by 50 different native speakers in each language for emotional resonance and analyzed on an emotional scale. Every language tested had a positive bias, Spanish being the greatest, and Chinese being the most balanced language.

We, humans, “use more happy words than sad words,” says mathematician Chris Danforth who co-led the new research.


(A previous version of this post referred to Brazilian and Portuguese, without the specific qualifiers in the updated version.)

  • Carlos Modesto

    Brazilian is a gentilic/demonyn. It is not a language, the language is Portuguese. How can you write an article like this and not know that? It clearly affects your credibility!

    • davidorban

      Thanks for your remark. Yes, we know that the proper name of the language is Portuguese. To call the post “What is the happiest language/gentilic/demonyn” would have sounded less effective than the imperfect, but clearer one we chose. We will strive to re-establish our credibility with you in the future!

      • Umbelina Barros Lima

        Still, the mistake remains. And it should obviously be corrected. You didn’t refer to American… which is, as we all know, a variety of English. So why speak about “Brazilian”? Portuguese is the language! And there are at least two varieties: European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. Still, the language is Portuguese!

        • davidorban

          Corrected! 🙂

          • Umbelina Barros Lima

            Thanks, David! 😉

    • Umbelina Barros Lima

      You’re right, Carlos. I’ve felt really bad about this as well and I think that it still stands to be corrected.

  • Jayanthi Raja

    Lovely step in the happiest language
    Where is the Indian languages TAMIL and HINDI
    I bet they can bounce to the top with their words full of positivity