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Review of  Emotion Talk Across Corpora

Reviewer: Gloria Cappelli
Book Title: Emotion Talk Across Corpora
Book Author: Monika Bednarek
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 22.87

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AUTHOR: Monika A. Bednarek
TITLE: Emotion Talk Across Corpora
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2008

Gloria Cappelli, Department of English Studies, University of Pisa, Italy


''Emotion Talk Across Corpora'' is a book-length treatment of emotion talk in four
registers of British English (conversation, news reportage, fiction and academic
discourse) based on a combination of systemic-functional appraisal theory and
corpus linguistics (Biber's theories of register variation and Hunston's local
grammar approach). It is composed of six chapters preceded by a foreword by
Prof. J.R. Martin (University of Sidney), a list of figures, tables and images
and a brief explanation of the system network notation used, and followed by
references and an index.

Chapter 1, ''Analyzing Language and Emotion'' describes the subject and the
objectives of the book and introduces the main concepts which will be used in
the following chapters. The author clearly states that the book is about
''emotion talk'' – a label that she uses to indicate the use of emotion terms –
and its function in discourse. ''[the book] seeks to investigate how we use
emotion talk in different types of text (the four registers of casual
conversation, fiction, news reportage, and academic discourse) to position
ourselves, to express evaluations and to provide information, and is aimed at
all researchers interested in the use of emotion talk in naturally occurring
discourse'' (p.2). The following sections of Chapter 1 are dedicated to a
synthetic but detailed and wide-ranging overview of emotion research and the
main questions that such research has attempted to answer. Previous approaches
to affect/emotion in linguistics are grouped according to the viewpoint adopted
and the sub-discipline of linguistics in which they can be situated (e.g., the
cognitive approach, the cross-linguistic approach, the
linguistic-anthropological approach, etc.). Special attention is dedicated to
the pragmatic/textlinguistic approach, which is partly adopted by Bednarek
herself for her research. The different approaches are also compared in terms of
the distinction that the various studies make between ''emotional talk'' (i.e. the
different types of human linguistic behavior that signal emotion without
recourse to linguistic expressions that explicitly denote emotion) and ''emotion
talk'' (i.e. linguistic expressions that explicitly denote emotion), with only
the latter being included in Bednarek's investigation. In the following two
sections, the author introduces the theoretical background against which her
investigation of emotion terms is built: systemic functional linguistics and
appraisal theory (section 1.4) and stance analysis and register variation
studies (1.5). Finally, the choice of the lexical items studied and the
methodology for the creation of the corpus and for the analysis of the data are
discussed in section 1.6. The final section of Chapter 1 provides a summary of
the three main aims of the book, and a very brief outline of the work.

Chapter 2, ''Emotion Profiling'', presents a large-scale investigation of the
frequency profiles of the selected emotion terms (which Bednarek calls ''emotion
profiles'') in the four genres under scrutiny. Starting from the claim of recent
corpus-linguistics research ''that linguistic choices are mainly motivated by
function, resulting in many linguistic differences between registers'', and
inspired by the fact that ''little systematic linguistic research [...] has
considered the question of register variation in the usage of emotion terms''
(p.27), the author carries out a thorough investigation of the lexical,
part-of-speech (POS) and syntactic variation of such terms in her corpus (a
sub-corpus of the British National Corpus). The results are discussed at length
and made readily available to the reader thanks to the many tables which
schematize the findings of the corpus study, both in terms of raw frequencies
and occurrences per million words. The lexical and POS variation shows that the
most frequent emotion terms across genres are those with a high ''psychocultural
salience'' (p.48), that is, those terms that in psycholinguistic experiments are
free-listed by the informants. Examples of such words are ''happy'', ''angry'',
''sad'', ''love'' and ''hate''. Moreover, differences in POS distribution across
genres seem to indicate that the analysis can in fact contribute to the
identification of their defining features. Overall, negative emotions are found
to be more frequently lexicalized than their positive counterparts. The possible
reasons for this preference are discussed in detail with reference to
psychological, cognitive and linguistic research (pp.49-51). The study of
syntactic variation in emotion terms in the four genres is carried out on a
subset of emotion terms, because it requires manual scrutiny of the data, and
that would not be feasible on a large number of lexical items. This part of the
research is grounded in the assumption that ''language is at least partly
responsible for construing reality'' and that therefore ''the usage of emotion
terms in the English language with respect to syntactic variation seems to
contribute to the Western conceptualization of emotions as prototypically
non-comparable, non-countable, stative [and] private rather than public/shared''
(p.54). Observations about the way in which emotion terms and the syntactic
patterns in which they enter can be related to culture close the chapter.

Chapter 3, ''A local Grammar of Affect'', and Chapter 4, ''Patterns of Affect
across Corpora'', both rely on the local grammar approach to affect and discuss
the most important patterns and their function(s) in the four genres. Chapter 3
focuses on the words and word classes that precede or follow a subset of 15
emotion terms and it is a qualitative rather than a quantitative analysis aiming
at sketching a ''local grammar of affect, which is based on a combination of
Hunston's [...] local grammar approach and Fillmore's FrameNet approach'' (p.65),
both corpus-based and both involving the mapping of semantic-functional
categories onto sentences. The two approaches are discussed and compared in
section 3.1 and a proposal for the combination of the two for the analysis of
emotion terms is provided in section 3.2, with FrameNet contributing mostly to
the description of contextual information and local grammar to the individual
functions realized by different lexical items. Three main components for the
linguistic encoding of emotional experience are identified and labeled according
to appraisal theory (emoter, emotion and trigger), with three additional labels
which are helpful on occasions for the description of sentence elements
(expressor, empathy target and action). In section 3.3, the patterns emerging
from the functional labeling of the elements in the corpus sentences are
illustrated with the help of numerous tables, and discussed in detail. Affect
patterns are described according to three main factors: the presence of an
emoter (emoted vs. unemoted affect), the presence of a trigger (directed vs.
undirected affect) and the explicitness of the emotional response (covert vs.
overt affect). Having identified the most common linguistic features of each
pattern, a frequency study of the different patterns and their function in the
four genres is made possible and is in fact presented in Chapter 4. Common
functions of patterns of affect are identified for each genre and thoroughly
discussed and exemplified.

Chapter 5, ''Mapping and Analyzing Affect'' and Chapter 6, ''Enacting Affect:
Pragmatic Analysis'', are the chapters in which the results of the corpus
analysis is used to make headway in the theory. In Chapter 5, after discussing
the appraisal theoretic approach to affect types, Bednarek proposes a convincing
revision of the categorization of emotion terms, which she calls ''a fuzzy system
of modified affect''. She proposes that emotion terms should be classified
''according to five rather than three categories, and re-construe the system of
in/security and dis/satisfaction accordingly. [...] [T]his system is set as a
fuzzy system, with no clear boundaries between the affect types, and possibly
blends [...]. It is also assumed [...] that linguistic affect is organized as a
prototype category, with core, better and worse members, and family resemblances
[...] between family members'' (p.167-168). She also discusses the valence of
emotion terms and proposes that the positive vs. negative dichotomy should be
overcome with the introduction of the neutral categories of surprise and
dis/inclination. Chapter 6 is ideally divided in two parts, even though they are
not in a sequential order: in sections 6.1 and 6.3, the author discusses
''affective key'' (''the co-occurrence of particular configurations of affect'',
p.184) and ''affective stance'' (''the co-selection or patterning of affect types
in stretches of text related to the construal of certain authorial and
non-authorial personae with respect to emotional experience'', p.184) in the four
genres, outlining the main functions of emotion terms in each one of them.
Sections 6.2, 6.4 and 6.5 interestingly provide suggestions for various areas
that still need to be explored in order to advance emotion and affect research
and for possible applications of the latter.


Monika Bednarek's ''Emotion Talk across Corpora'' is interesting in many respects;
first and foremost, for the corpus-based insight it provides in the
lexicalization of emotions in different genres of British English. The book
shows extensive knowledge of the literature on previous emotion research - even
in fields other than linguistics - and a remarkable ability to schematize a
complex theoretical panorama, where the borders between the various
contributions are not always clear-cut. Discussion of the corpus data is
preceded by methodological observations which evidence the author's awareness of
the possible limitations of working on a smaller sub-set of data from a larger
corpus. They also bring to the fore an important issue for pragmatically- and
semantically-oriented research: the lack of extensive semantic and pragmatic
annotation which would allow corpus-based and corpus-driven studies. The data
analysis is easy to follow thanks to both the in-depth explanations provided and
the numerous tables and examples. Every chapter is closed by a summary of the
main contents discussed, which helps the reader review the wealth of information
received before moving on the next chapter.

As to the data discussed, I am not sure I agree with the classification of some
lexical items as ''neutral'' rather than positive or negative. In particular,
''willing'', listed among the neutral terms in Chapter 3 (p.65), seems rather a
positive term to me. Moreover, I had never thought of it as an emotion term, but
rather a marker of boulomaic modality and for this reason, I thought at first
that it should not have been included in the corpus study. Further ahead in the
book, though, Bednarek tackles the question and discusses a very interesting
aspect of emotion talk: the fact that it is often found in colligation with
modality and that, in some cases, terms can lexicalize more than one emotion and
even more than one ''attitude''. More specifically, the author points out that
affect and modality often interact either at the sentence/text level or at the
lexical level itself. In other words, the complex nature of attitudes is
sometimes reflected in the complex nature of some of the lexical items
investigated (Cappelli 2008).

Some doubts remain as to the categorization of the appraisal categories Bednarek
identifies as positive, negative or neutral. If there is little doubt that the
new category ''Surprise'' is neutral, I think the new category of
''Dis/inclination'' (which is rightly added as a separate one) does have a
positive (inclination) and a negative (disinclination) pole.

I found Chapter 6 slightly more difficult to follow. First, a deeper knowledge
of appraisal theory and systemic functional linguistics than I had (and was
needed for the previous chapters) is probably presupposed. It took me quite a
while to understand the way in which the concepts of ''affective key'' and
''affective stance'' were used, despite the definitions provided by the author.
Second, the ''pragmatic'' analysis is mostly a functional analysis and it was very
different from what I had come to expect from the chapter's title. The chapter
is, however, very interesting in that it presents the functions of the various
patterns of affect in the four genres investigated and proposes many ideas for
future research.

At a more theoretical level, Bednarek's book certainly advances the discipline
and opens up a number of promising questions. The hypothesis, only very briefly
discussed by the author (p.33), that the investigation of the way in which
emotions come to be linguistically encoded in different genres may shed some
light on the role of culture in shaping emotions themselves and the culturally
appropriate/expected emotional responses is at minimum intriguing and deserves,
in my opinion, to be further investigated. Attitudes and their role in meaning
construal, communication and cognition have only recently started to receive the
full attention they deserve (see Bertuccelli Papi 2000 for an overview of
previous research on attitudes) and Bednarek's work certainly contributes to the
understanding of one of the least explored domains in linguistics - and yet a
crucial one.

Far from consisting in the mere description of the lexical domain of emotion
terms, the research presented in the book provides support to the author's
original contribution to the theoretical apparatus necessary for a deeper
understanding of the linguistic expression of affect and of attitudinal meanings
in general. Besides the review of the appraisal theoretic categorization she
proposes, another interesting aspect of this work is Bednarek's (successful)
effort to find ways to bring together theories and approaches which, although
developed within different theoretical traditions, are clearly highly compatible
and from whose integration research in the field can clearly benefit. As
attitudinal meaning construal is often the result of the interaction of factors
at different levels of the linguistic system, an interdisciplinary approach
which can account for these various levels is, in my opinion, to be sought after
(Cappelli 2008).


Bertuccelli Papi, Marcella. 2000. Implicitness in Text and Discourse. Pisa: ETS.

Cappelli, Gloria. 2008. ''I reckon I know how Leonardo da Vinci must have
felt...'': Epistemicity, evidentiality and English verbs of cognitive attitude.
Pari: Pari Publishing.

Gloria Cappelli has a PhD in English Linguistics and works at the Department of English Studies of the University of Pisa. Her main research interests include semantics and pragmatics, applied linguistics and ESP (English for Special Purposes). Over the past six years, she has been teaching at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures and at the Faculty of Tourism Sciences of the University of Pisa. She has published several articles in Italian and international journals, a book on tourism English and a book-length semantic and pragmatic study of English verbs of cognitive attitude. She is co-editor of a book on lexical complexity and translation with M. Bertuccelli Papi and S. Masi.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0230551467
ISBN-13: 9780230551466
Pages: 256
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