Study Buddy (Challenger): Origins of love, how the word permeates languages, and the artist who wrote it across the US

  • Study Buddy Challenger is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with more difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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One of Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculptures sits at Love Park in the US city of Philadelphia. Photo: Shutterstock

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] In the history of language, the Modern English “love” evolved from the Old English lufu, which encapsulated a range of meanings – attraction, affection, friendliness, the love of God, love as an abstraction or personification. The word descended from Proto-Germanic, with cognates in other Germanic languages, such as the German liebe.

[2] Its ultimate origin is thought to be the Proto-Indo-European root leubh-, meaning “to care, desire, love” – the same source as for words such as the Sanskrit lubhyati, meaning “desires”, and the Latin libido, referring to “desire, longing, sensual passion, lust”.

[3] In the history of art, the concept of love has been a prominent theme. And in the 20th century, the most iconic rendition of love is surely American pop artist Robert Indiana’s LOVE. Crucially, in his work – which Indiana himself described as “verbal-visual” – the meaning of the word is reflected in its typography.

[4] The bold seriffed contours – and, in the original, the brilliant contrast of colours – convey a certain intensity. The four letters in upper case are stacked in a square format as a quadripartite composition, the letters touching one another in physical intimacy. And the “O” swoons at an angle to the right – as if knocked off balance and swept off its feet, thus evoking strong feelings of passion.

[5] Originally designed for personal use, then commissioned as a print for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card in 1965, the first LOVE sculpture was constructed in Indianapolis in the USA in 1970. Over the decades, more than 50 incarnations were produced by Indiana for urban centres across the Americas, Europe and Asia.

[6] The language of LOVE extends beyond English: the sculpture can be found as the Hebrew אהבה (ahava), and the Spanish and Italian amor. Also created were a love/eros/amour/liebe/ahava construction and a series of paintings of the Chinese character for love, 爱.

[7] In the consumer culture of late-capitalist societies, symbolic resources such as language become commodified and acquire prominence as cultural and material artefacts. Text-based artworks, such as Indiana’s LOVE, and other non-utilitarian decorative items, such as “love” photo frames, jewellery and fridge magnets, are termed “language objects” by University of Hong Kong language and communication professor Adam Jaworski.

[8] These objects allow consumers to appropriate the word’s meaning potential and create an individual, intimate experience. In whatever language or multimodal representation you experience it: let there be love!
Source: South China Morning Post, February 13


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. Arrange the following words in chronological order according to when they were formed: love, leubh- and lufu.

2. Which of the following is not an interpretation of the word lufu based on paragraph 1?
A. the love of God or a spirit that one worships
B. care for another person
C. behaving in a pleasant way towards someone
D. when two people are married

3. Find a word or phrase in paragraph 3 that refers to “a visual representation or reproduction”.

4. According to paragraph 3, how is the meaning of Robert Indiana’s LOVE artwork conveyed to the audience?

5. Why does the author think that the letter “O” in the LOVE sculpture is misaligned from the rest of the letters?

6. In paragraph 5, what does the word “incarnations” suggest about the LOVE sculptures created after 1970?

7. Complete the summary using phrases from paragraphs 7 and 8. (4 marks)
Adam Jaworski, a professor of (i) __________, studies how words are used in decoration and art, which he has termed (ii) __________. Amid modern societies’ (iii) __________, language has been used to sell things, and consumers can take a word’s (iv) __________ and form their own experiences.

8. Decide if the statements below are True, False or Not Given in the text. (4 marks)
(i) Robert Indiana designed the first LOVE sculpture with the intention of selling it to art galleries.
(ii) The origin of the words “love” and “lubhyati” can be traced back to the same root.
(iii) The letters “L”,”V” and “E” in the LOVE sculpture are designed to reflect the closeness Indiana felt with his romantic partners.
(iv) Most of Indiana’s LOVE sculptures can be found in public parks and commercial spaces.

9. Which group of people might this article appeal to?
A. students majoring in ancient art and sculptures
B. art dealers looking to purchase unique works
C. linguists interested in the evolution and origin of languages
D. professors researching the impact of language on social interactions

Even Taiwan has a version of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. Photo: AP


1. (i) leubh-; (ii) lufu; (iii) love
2. D
3. rendition
4. through the typography used for the sculpture
5. It is meant to inspire feelings of passion as the letter “O” looks like it has been knocked off balance and swept off its feet.
6. They look similar to the original sculpture.
7. (i) language and communication; (ii) “language objects”; (iii) consumer culture; (iv) meaning potential
8. (i) F; (ii) T; (iii) NG; (iv) NG
9. C

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