Reading human faces: Emotion components and universal semantics

Anna Wierzbicka*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


It is widely believed that there are some emotions (so-called i(basic emotions”) which are universally associated with distinctive facial expressions and that one can recognize, universally, an angry face, a happy face, a sad face, and so on. The “basic emotions” are believed to be part of the biological makeup of human species and to be therefore “hardwired”. In contrast to this view, Ortony and Turner (1990) have suggested that it is not emotions but some components of emotions which are universally linked with certain facial expressions, or rather with some components of facial expressions. Ortony and Turner have made a good case for this hypothesis. But the theory will be more convincing - and indeed more verifiable - if the postulated “dissociable components of emotions” are formulated in a rigorous, and culture-independent manner. The paper argues that the Natural Semantic Metalanguage, based on universal semantic primitives and devised by the author and colleagues, provides a suitable culture- independent framework.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPragmatics and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1993


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