Is pain a human universal?

Anna Wierzbicka, ANU

doi: 10.1177/1754073912439761

Emotion Review 

July 2012 vol. 4 no. 3307-317

(Includes data from Australian languages)

Pain is a global problem whose social, economic, and psychological costs are immeasurable. It is now seen as the most common reason why people seek medical (including psychiatric) care. But what is pain? This article shows that the discourse of pain tends to suffer from the same problems of ethnocentrism and obscurity as the discourse of emotions in general. Noting that in the case of pain, the costs of miscommunication are particularly high, this article offers a new paradigm for communicating about pain. It shows how the use of natural semantic metalanguage (NSM) techniques developed in linguistic semantics can help in this area, as in other areas concerned with human subjectivity, and can lead to a greater understanding between psychologists, psychiatrists, medical practitioners, social workers, and ordinary suffering mortals.