Down in the mouth in Germany
HOT TOPIC by Steve Mackin, Daily Mail, 08/00
1. Give a summary of Prof. D. Myers' research. (30%)
2. Do you think that Prof. D. Myers' research results
explain the stereotype of the "grumpy German"? (30%)
3. What do you think about stereotypes? (What might
be their functions, reasons, disadvantages etc.?) (40%)
! Please count your words!
THE Germans are grumpy and lacking in humour because speaking their
language makes them that way, according to a leading psychologist.
Professor David Myers says that the muscle movement required to speak
the rather harsh- sounding words causes the face to frown and look glum.
And he believes continuous frowning in the end leads people to become
In particular, Professor Myers identifies the umlaut accent on German
vowels, which cause the mouth to turn down. In contrast, English sounds
like “e” and “ah” are far more cheerful and put people in better moods.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Myers, from Hope
College, Michigan, said:
“Behaviour and facial expressions have a great effect on the emotions
of an individual.
“Research has shown the facial expression of a person can affect how
funny they will find things like cartoons.
“Even when speaking , movements of the muscles in the face can change
a person’s mood - it is delightfully subtle. Saying “e” and “ah” activates
the smiling muscles in the face and puts people in a better mood than saying
the German "ü".
“This activates muscles associated with negative emotions and this
can make a significant difference in the mood of a person. This could be
a good reason why German people have got a reputation for being humourless
Professor Myers, who has just finished a sabbatical at St Andrews University,
has carried out extensive research on positive psychology.
It’s just that "über" can’t make you smile
Using electrodes to manipulate facial muscles into different expressions,
he found people who frown have a lowered sense of humour. German words
like über and fünf triggered unhappy emotions while English words
like bee and car made people smile.
Professor Myers added that negative emotions were bad for the health
and made people who showed them difficult to agree with.
He added: “By manipulating the position of a person’s mouth into a
smiling position they will find cartoons funnier than someone whose mouth
is in a frowning position.
“Smiling produces positive emotions like happiness and explains why
unhappy people are less likely to be amused by jokes. Happier people are
much more tolerant and less abusive than those who are unhappy. They are
also more willing to help those in need.
“Emotions like anger and depression are known to be toxic and make
people extremely unhealthy.”
Dr Robin Lickley, from the linguistics department at Edinburgh University,
said yesterday: “It certainly makes sense that some vowels which use the
same muscles as a smile in pronunciation could make people happier.
“The stretching of the lips and the cheeks when forming the English
‘e’ are also used in smiling . With ‘ah’ it is more of a laughing expression
with the mouth open.
“The pronunciation of vowels with an umlaut requires the tongue to
be at the back of the mouth with the lips more rounded like an ‘oo’ sound.
This is the complete opposite of ‘e’ and more associated with serious or
Yesterday a spokesman for the German Embassy said: “We can give no
comment on this as it is too scientific”. (684 words)
research: 'Forschung' - down in the mouth: depressed
- grumpy: angry, ill-tempered - to lack in (humour):
to be without (humour) - facial expression: Gesichts-(ausdruck)
- to affect: (here) to influence - mood: state of mind
- subtle: slight, little - sabbatical: leave with pay
granted every seven years to a university professor for travel or research
- to frown: to wrinkle one's brow when in displeasure or anger
- to trigger: to initiate, to start - a cartoon: a caricature
- to abuse: to use negative words in an aggressive way - toxic:
with poison - cheek: Wange - embassy: ambassador's
offices in a foreign country