Portuguese Concept of Saudade Prototype Approach

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 6
Words: 1693
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: PhD


Felix Neto and Etienne Mullet researched the applicability of Roche’s Prototype Theory in the understanding of the Portuguese concept of Saudade. They divided the research into four stages, each with its activities. They used single students from Oporto University as the main participants. The participants gave their perspectives on the concept and the researchers used their answers to determine the closest answers to the real meaning of Saudade. This paper analyzes the findings of this research and tries to apply them in various other fields of study (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

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Main Questions and Hypotheses

The researchers divided the study into four steps. The questions that help in the formulation of hypotheses are very important in each of these steps as they help achieve the general purpose of the study. Below are the questions that helped the researchers in formulating their hypotheses:

  • What will be the participants’ possible responses?
  • What will be the range of centrality ratings and affective valence?
  • Does feature centrality affect cognition; recognition and memory?
  • In case the researchers ask the participants to write about their Saudade experiences, how many central and peripheral features will they mention?

The main hypotheses from the questions were:

  • Saudade can be described by both negative and positive terminologies depending on the experiences of an individual.
  • Researchers will find a full range of centrality ratings and the resulting affective valence will range between positive and negative variables.
  • The centrality of features causes both real and false recognition and recall of events.

Procedure for Answering the Questions

In the first study, the researchers used 160 undergraduate students from Oporto University. 112 of the students were female, and none of them had a husband or wife. Their average age was 20.16, with an SD of 2.32. The instructors asked the participants to mention all the words that can describe Saudade. They gave the participants five minutes to give all their possible descriptions of Saudade. They did this exercise in books with twenty lines (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

The second study involved 143 undergraduate students from the University of Oporto, 98 women and 45 men. Their mean age was 20.30, and all of them were single. The participants rated the descriptions of Saudade from their first study using two scales: one ranging from one to seven, and the other one ranging from -3 to +3. 1 represented the poorest representative of Saudade while 7 represented the closest representative of Saudade. On the other hand, -3 represented the most negative characteristic of Saudade while +3 represented the most positive characteristics of Saudade (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

In the third study, the researchers used 149 undergraduate students from the University of Oporto. 91 of them were women, and the average age of the whole group was 20.44. All of them were unmarried (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

The instructors gave the participants a list of 40 features of Saudade from the first study. They took 20 of them from central features and the other 20 from peripheral features. The instructors presented these features to them and later asked them to list as many towns in their country as they could remember. This exercise served as an interference. They listed all the features of Saudade that they could remember. Lastly, the instructors asked them to put marks against the 40 features they had set aside (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

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84 undergraduate students from the University of Oporto took part in the fourth study. 47 of them were women, and the average age of the whole group was 19.81. All of them were single. The instructors asked the participants to list all the incidences when they had experienced Saudade. They then asked them to describe one of the events using a free-response method (Neto & Mullet, 2014).


The findings of the first study indicated that each of the participants came up with more than five descriptive terms for Saudade. Precisely, the participants produced 182 terminologies. This finding indicates that laypersons consider Saudade as a diverse concept that entails emotional, behavioural, cognitive and even motivational aspects. It also suggests that Saudade has an element of time. It covers past and future aspirations in the sense that individuals wish to re-live their past or get into the future and enjoy being in certain places or with certain people (Neto & Mullet, 2014).

The study also indicated that depression does not have a close relationship with Saudade. The researchers arrived at this conclusion because the whole study just and a peripheral mention of depression. The study also went further to assert that the relationship between Saudade and loneliness is peripheral.

The second study indicated that the participants understood the principles of the centrality of features. All the respondents were able to rate the centrality of the characteristics of Saudade. Their ratings ranged between two and seven on a 7-point scale. This study also showed that the respondents could rate the affective valence as more or less positive or negative. The ability to rate the affective valence in this manner indicates that the participants were fully aware that the concept is very complex. This study contradicted many previous studies that indicated that negative features were better representatives of Saudade than positive ones. It suggested that both the negative and positive features are important aspects of Saudade.

Study 3 indicated that the prototype structure of Saudade had a great impact on the process of recalling and recognition. It led to the misreporting of past events. Hence, many participants found it easier to recall central issues than peripheral ones. Nevertheless, the elements of centrality did not affect the recall and recognition of elements. The purpose of the fourth study was to complement the findings of the third study.

Major Implications

The major implications of this research included the following:

  • The revelation that Saudade entails a variety of aspects and covers both the past and the future.
  • The demarcation of the boundary between depression, loneliness and Saudade: the study asserts that depression and loneliness have peripheral relationships with Saudade
  • Discovering the equality in the relevance of both the positive and negative features in representing Saudade
  • Discovering the effect of the prototype structure of Saudade on recalling and recognizing events-the study suggests that this structure causes false recall and recognition
  • Discovering that the centrality of elements does not affect recall and recognition of events

My Opinions

The Prototype Approach is a very good method of studying the definitions of items. However, it has several limitations. All the four studies in this research use single students. These students give their experiences in an attempt to define Saudade. Logically, participants who are still single at the age of 20 years and above are likely to be less sociable compared to married or divorced participants. Therefore, they do not have enough experience to help give accurate definitions of Saudade. The results of this study are likely to be less accurate compared to what the researchers could obtain if they used married or divorced participants.

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Another limitation of this report is the emphasis on data at the expense of the participants’ narrations of their experiences. The research could have been more appealing to study if it had included the qualitative aspects of the research.

Another limitation was the involvement of participants from only one place. The research could have achieved more trustworthy results had the researchers used participants from different places. Using participants from different places could have brought together people with different histories and cultures, and their understanding of Saudade could have been different (Li, 2012).

Linguists can extend the prototype view to further research in various linguistic areas. Such areas may include second language acquisition, grammatical categories, and morphology. Mathematicians can also apply this concept in dealing with various mathematical concepts. This principle is also applicable to different categories of people in the population. Such groups include children of different ages, youths, old people and middle-aged people.

In second language acquisition, teachers can determine the types of mistakes that learners make while trying to learn a new language. They can ask the whole class to practice speaking the language as they note down the mistakes they make in their speeches. They can then determine their most central and peripheral mistakes (Lawry & Tang, 2009).

Teachers of language can also determine the proficiency of their learners in terms of knowledge of grammatical categories using the Prototype Approach. They can ask their learners to construct sentences in class as they note down the grammatical categories that the students mostly abuse. Such categories may include aspect, gender, tense and number. Teachers can also apply the Prototype Approach in researching the most problematic topics in mathematics.

They can look at their learner’s performance in the tests they do at the end of the topics or interview them. This exercise should involve writing down all the topics and looking at the number of students that scored below a certain mark in every topic. The most central topic is the most difficult for the learners (Niedenthal, Auxiette, Nugier, Dalle, Bonin & Fayol, 2004).

The prototype approach can also help researchers study the process of acquiring the first language among young speakers (Fehr, 2006). They can also follow up on the development of language among young people. For example, they can take note of the words that children learn first. Such a study can involve about fifty children from one region or different regions. The researchers can then write down the number of children who learn how to use verbs before nouns and vice versa. They can then make their conclusions depending on the most central and peripheral features of the research.

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The Prototype Approach is a very useful method of research in linguistics. This paper has looked at the application of this approach in studying the concept of the Portuguese Saudade. The paper has explored how Felix Neto and Etienne Mullet analyzed the understanding of Saudade among Portuguese students. In this approach, researchers take views from many respondents and eliminate what they consider peripheral. They then take the most central features of the definitions and adopt them as the main definitions of the terminologies at hand.


Fehr, B. (2006). A prototype approach to studying love. The New Psychology of Love, 225-246.

Lawry, J., & Tang, Y. (2009). Uncertainty modelling for vague concepts: A prototype theory approach. Artificial Intelligence, 173(18), 1539-1558.

Li, B. (2012). Multi-discipline virtual prototype modelling and simulation theory and application (1st ed.). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Neto, F., & Mullet, E. (2014). A Prototype Analysis of the Portuguese Concept of Saudade. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 45(4), 660-670.

Niedenthal, P., Auxiette, C., Nugier, A., Dalle, N., Bonin, P., & Fayol, M. (2004). A prototype analysis of the French category “emotion”. Cognition And Emotion, 18(3), 289-312.