LINGUIST List 28.4298

Thu Oct 19 2017

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Psycholinguistics: Prior, Kasper (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 17-Apr-2017
From: Heli Tissari <>
Subject: Emotion in Multilingual Interaction
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Matthew T. Prior
EDITOR: Gabriele Kasper
TITLE: Emotion in Multilingual Interaction
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 266
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Heli Tissari, Stockholm University

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Matthew T. Prior and Gabriele Kasper, the editors of the book Emotion in Multilingual Interaction, as well as the other authors of the book, are interested in “emotions as social displays and situated practices” (Berger & Fazel Lauzon, p. 88). Such a focus means that they are continuing a line of work represented in, for example, the volume Emotion in Interaction (Peräkylä & Sorjonen 2012). However, as suggested by the title, the focus is fully on multilingual interaction, and very much on how second language (L2) speakers display emotions and respond to others’ emotional displays, although three chapters focus more on native speakers. In this, the authors of the book under review are continuing research on L2 speakers’ displays of emotion, which have already been studied by one of its editors (Prior 2016). Their main method is conversation analysis (CA), although it is combined with other approaches, such as the study of “nonverbal and embodied emotion displays”, as introduced by Prior (p. 12).


The introduction to the book, “Contextualizing emotion in multilingual interaction: Theoretical and methodological perspectives” (pp. 1–28) is written by Matthew T. Prior. It is an introduction to what emotions are and how they have been studied in linguistics. The focus is on emotions as social phenomena and as something created during communication, rather than on emotions as physiological and mental phenomena experienced by individuals. The introduction to the chapters in this particular volume is fairly short (pp. 16–19), but the list of references is long (pp. 19–28).

The second chapter (pp. 29–56) is written by Gavin Lamb and focuses on a “conversation between an American man and a Japanese woman” (p. 29) where they talk about some of the man’s friends. These friends play together in a band although they live in different cities in the US. The gist of the matter is that the man is talking in a humorous manner. Lamb describes how the man accomplishes that and how the woman is able to understand when to laugh. Lamb uses the musical term “crescendo” to illustrate how the man builds up his funny story. The chapter includes not only a transcript of the relevant piece of conversation but also photos of the man and woman, showing their postures and facial expressions.

A Japanese participant in conversation also features in the third chapter, which is called “ ‘ Like Godzilla’: Enactments and formulations in telling a disaster story in Japanese” (pp. 57–85). In this chapter, Alfred Rue Burch and Gabriele Kasper describe a conversation in Japanese where a Chinese woman talks in Japanese about her experience of the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001. She is able to convey her fear to a Japanese listener with relatively few words. Like the previous chapter, this chapter also includes photos of the two women in conversation, and a photo of a picture which the Chinese woman draws to illustrate how close to the two towers she lived when it all happened.

The next chapter is written by Evelyne Berger and Virginie Fasel Lauzon who analyse how a native speaker of German speaks with her host family in French while working as an au pair in Switzerland. The title of the chapter is “Orienting to a co-participant’s emotion in French L2: A resource to participate in and sustain a conversation” (pp. 87–110). Although the authors state that their data includes recordings of discussions between the au pair and different members of the host family, all the conversations presented in this chapter are between the au pair and the mother of the family. The au pair is fluent in French, and the authors indeed conclude that the point of these conversations is not to teach or learn French but to build a “sense of closeness and complicity” (p. 107).

Chapter Five returns to Japanese participants who are speaking in English this time. However, they use the Japanese particle “oh” to express awe in their English conversations recorded during oral proficiency tests. The title of the chapter is “On doing Japanese awe in English talk” (pp. 111–130), and it is written by Tim Greer. He concludes that the students who use “oh” are likely to seem more fluent in English than the ones who do not use it, because the former participate more actively in the conversations even if they do not stick to the English language, as expected. This chapter includes one photo showing how the students are seated during the test (p. 116) and two figures illustrating pitch and volume in a couple of turns where the students use the Japanese particle.

Chapter Six moves from the university to the primary school. It is written by Asta Cekaite, and it deals with a 7-year-old Somali girl who starts the school in Sweden. More specifically, the chapter deals with “Emotional stances and interactional competence: Learning to calibrate disagreements, objections, and refusals” (pp. 131–152). The chapter describes rather realistically how the little girl expresses disagreement with the teacher and the teacher assistant, including drawings illustrating what happens in each situation. In the beginning, the girl’s objections are expressed in simple words, such as the single word “nej”, ‘no’. Later, she learns to be more eloquent. However, both the child and the teacher also use their bodies to express their emotions throughout the school year.

From Sweden, the volume moves to India and “Negative self-categorization, stance, affect, and affiliation in autobiographical storytelling” (pp. 153–176). In the seventh chapter, Priti Sandhu analyses excerpts from her interviews of two Indian women who have been educated in Hindi rather than English, one completely, and the other in part. This has had negative effects on their lives, and that is why they also categorize themselves negatively when they talk about their opportunities and how other people view them. Because the interviewer attempts to remain neutral regarding the interviewee’s reports of their education, the interviewees emphasize their problems in anticipation of their affirmation by the interviewer.

The only chapter dealing with healthcare is Chapter Eight by Federico Fellini, “Affective formulations in multilingual healthcare settings” (pp. 176–201). More specifically, he deals with how interpreters act as mediators of conversations between Italian doctors and patients who speak Arabic and Mandarin Chinese. The noun “mediator” is central here, because this chapter brings to the fore the active role of interpreters in managing the conversations between doctors and patients. Sometimes the interpreters do not consider it worthwhile to translate the patients’ emotional displays, while sometimes they pay skilful attention to them in order to better understand what the patients need.

Chapter Nine continues with research interviews. It is written by Matthew T. Prior, and it is called “Formulating and scaling emotionality in L2 qualitative research interviews” (pp. 203–236). Prior uses many figures to illustrate how the speakers categorise emotions, and presents them on different kinds of scales ranging from minimization to intensification of emotion, as well as categorising and scaling things that people do. The chapter focuses on a single interview of a Cambodian-Vietnamese immigrant in Canada, beginning from his report of a workplace conflict. Prior is interested in relations between different social groups, but comes to the conclusion that the interviewee avoids talking about Anglo-Canadians, which shows his awareness of the group Prior himself represents as the interviewer. Consequently, the interviewee might describe social relations between various groups differently to an interviewer with some other linguistic and cultural identity (p. 232).

In chapters Ten and Eleven, native speakers of languages and language varieties play an important role in a multilingual setting. The tenth chapter, written by Gavin Ken Furukawa, is titled “ ‘It hurts to hear that’: Representing the feelings of foreigners on Japanese television” (pp. 237–265). It deals with a Japanese television show where Japanese hosts discuss the behaviour of Japanese people with foreigners living in Japan. It includes a fairly elaborate description of how such a show is constructed on Japanese television. Many people contribute to the final outcome which the viewers see at their homes and thus also the emotions which the program is supposed to display and evoke. There are also a couple of pictures showing how the participants of the discussion are shown on television.

Toshiaki Furukawa has written Chapter Eleven, “Humor, laughter, and affect in multilingual comedy performances in Hawaiʿi” (pp. 267–287). He discusses how a pidgin is used in stand-up comedy to address the emotions of the local public in Hawaiʿi. He illustrates this with the help of two transcripts from comedy shows and excerpts from the interview of a comedian. The conclusion is that the comedians expect their audiences to share social knowledge about the meanings of certain experiences and draw on those expectations when addressing them. In other words, the audiences do not laugh at random jokes, but the jokes are specifically targeted at them.

Lastly, Chapter Twelve, “The construction of emotion in multilingual computer-mediated interaction” (pp. 289–311) by Marta González-Lloret analyses online conversations between university students learning Spanish in the US and native Spanish speakers from Spain. She is particularly interested in smileys and emoticons and other resources typical of this medium, such as extra letters in words – I refer to multiplication as in “siiii” meaning ‘yes’ (p. 302). She shows that it is possible for these students to express various emotions, to joke and play with words, although they do not meet in person, but only via computers. She considers this an important finding regarding second language teaching (p. 308).

In addition, this volume contains an author index (pp. 313–317) and a subject index (pp. 319–326). They both seem rather thorough. Many of the words listed in the subject index come with subcategories. An especially rich subcategorization follows the word “laughter” which is divided into 35 subcategories such as “delayed”, “nervous” and “withholding” (pp. 322–323; the last category means that one does not laugh when one is expected to laugh).


At Stockholm University, our students come from many different backgrounds. Many of the Swedish students have immigrant parents, and we also have international students. Therefore, it is very rewarding to teach them about bi- and multilingualism. Those topics tend to generate plenty of discussion, and students like to reflect on their personal experiences. This year, we have, for example, discussed whether it is easier to express emotions in one’s mother tongue or in a second language, especially in English. That is one reason why I asked if I could review this book. Another reason is that I have conducted linguistic research on words and metaphors for emotions myself (e.g. Tissari 2010). This book is in fact a refreshing change to my own research.

This book does not give a direct answer to the question posed in the Introduction: whether it is easier to express emotions in a second than a first language. Some of my students think that it is easier for them to express emotions in English than in their mother tongue Swedish. This seemed to be the majority opinion in my groups last spring, although there were also students who claimed that it is easier for them to talk about their emotions in Swedish than in English. In addition, students with various mother tongues suggested that if they talk about emotions in their own languages they are more serious about those emotions than if they talk about them in a second language. Interestingly, a couple of English native speakers later told me that it often seems to them that L2 speakers of English express their emotions in a strange way. For example, when they swear in English they do not sound genuine. Such matters were not really discussed in this volume.

The article which comes closest to these considerations is the one by Berger and Fasel Lauzon who are of the opinion that the au pair whose conversations with the host family they follow uses French so skilfully that she uses it in a way similar to a native speaker. It is clear that part of the L2 speakers whose language is analysed in this volume are less advanced in their L2. It is especially interesting to see how little the Chinese speaker described by Rue Burch and Kasper has to say to convey fear in Japanese. However, it remains somewhat unclear how the situation would change if both of the participants in the conversation were not so familiar with the event that is described.

The volume suggests that people are surprisingly skilful in conveying and evoking emotion in languages which they have not fully mastered. This might have been expected, considering that so many people move from one country to another and manage to begin new lives there. At the same time, it is still quite amazing how much people can do with a restricted vocabulary and how well they understand each other. It would nevertheless be interesting to read more on cases where people actually misunderstand each other or completely fail to communicate an emotion.

It is clear that the different chapters in this book deal with various kinds of situations even if the focus is on multilingualism and, to a somewhat lesser extent, L2 speakers displaying their emotions and interpreting and anticipating other people’s reactions. This suggests that linguists could conduct further studies in order to investigate particular kinds of situations and particular topics more, as some of them have already done (e.g. Furukawa 2011, Furukawa 2015). One such example of a topic would be the display of emotions in computer-mediated F2 teaching, as suggested by González-Lloret (p. 308).

The volume is also an eye-opener to someone like me who has mainly been interested in the categorization and representation of emotions in English words and metaphors. I agree that emotions are not only how we name them or what we say about them. There is much more to emotions, and they also very much happen in spoken interaction.

However, I still claim that our words and metaphors for emotions also tell us much about them. For example, the findings concerning nonverbal and embodied emotion displays do not surprise me, because people often mention such things when they write about emotions. For instance, they often claim that we can read people’s emotions in their eyes. Many metaphors for emotions also have their origins in the bodily expression of emotion. Consequently, some work on metaphor and emotion, for example Kövecses (e.g. 2000), could have been mentioned even in this book.

As a semantician, I would also have appreciated more discussion of the differences between emotions and other things which people do with, for example, laughter. I admit that it was interesting to read this book exactly because emotions and other phenomena were not strictly distinguished from each other. It is clear that they overlap. However, at times it is certainly also advantageous to discern and discuss differences between phenomena such as emotions and character traits or emotions and humour. For example, it is very likely that comedians prefer their audiences to experience certain emotions rather than others. They would probably not wish their audiences to become angry or depressed.

There is also another matter which I thought about while reading this book but which was not addressed in depth. It was differences between cultural norms and practices. Much of what the people were doing in the analysed conversations was recognizable to me, but not everything was so familiar. I am especially referring to the Japanese talk show and, even more specifically, to the shaming of one of the hosts during which both the shamed host and the audience laughed, but for different reasons. I doubted whether such shaming would be acceptable in my own culture. As an L2 speaker myself, I can also remember situations where I have been uncertain about which emotions I have been expected to express and how. This could certainly be discussed more, for example, within the framework of CA. It would also be interesting to know what kind of difficulties people may encounter when they do not know what they should or should not do in terms of emotion displays.

To conclude, I appreciate this book both as a teacher and a researcher. I learned many things while reading it. To be even more precise, I became more aware of the fact that emotions are intertwined in most of what we do when we talk. Simultaneously, I became more aware of what we all do when we speak in languages other than our own. I plan to talk about this book to my students, especially in a course on how emotions are discussed in English. I can also recommend it to anyone interested in the linguistic expression of emotion, especially to advanced students and scholars. I certainly do not think that this book should only be read by people working within the framework of CA.


Furukawa, Gavin. 2015. “Cool” English: Stylized native-speaker English in Japanese television shows. Multilingua 34(2). 265–291.

Furukawa, Toshiaki. 2011. Humor-ing the Local: Multivocal performance in Stand-up Comedy in Hawaiʿi. PhD thesis, University of Hawaiʿi at Mānoa. Available at <>;

Kövecses, Zoltán. 2000. Metaphor and Emotion: Language, Culture, and Body in Human Feeling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peräkylä, Anssi & Marja-Leena Sorjonen (eds.). 2012. Emotion in Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199730735.001.0001

Prior, Matthew T. 2016. Emotion and Discourse in L2 Narrative Research. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Tissari, Heli. 2010. English words for emotions and their metaphors. In Margaret E. Winters, Heli Tissari & Kathryn Allan (eds.), Historical Cognitive Linguistics (Cognitive Linguistics Research 47.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 298-329.


I am currently working as a lecturer in English linguistics at Stockholm University. I teach, for example, the courses Language Analysis and Emotions in English. I am interested in how people talk about emotions.

Page Updated: 19-Oct-2017