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Review of  The Verbal Communication of Emotions

Reviewer: Antonella Strambi
Book Title: The Verbal Communication of Emotions
Book Author: Susan R. Fussell
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 15.2257

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Date: Fri, 06 Aug 2004 14:57:49 +0000
From: Antonella Strambi
Subject: The Verbal Communication of Emotions

EDITOR: Fussell, Susan R.
TITLE: The Verbal Communication of Emotions
SUBTITLE: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2002

Antonella Strambi, Department of Languages, Flinders University.

This book is a collection of essays written by renowned scholars operating within a wide variety of research areas and cultural contexts. In the introduction, the interdisciplinary nature of this collection is emphasized as the Editor states that the aim of the book is to offer ''a comprehensive view of current research and fertilizing cross-disciplinary interaction'' (p. 1). The 12 chapters that make up the book deal with a variety of issues, ranging from semantic differences across languages in relation to emotion terms to the potential consequences of emotion communication from personal, interpersonal and social perspectives.

In CHAPTER 1, ''The verbal communication of emotion: Introduction and overview'', the Editor, Susan R. Fussell, firstly discusses the rationale behind the decision to (i) focus on verbal channels for the communication of emotion and (ii) adopt an interdisciplinary approach. Subsequently, Fussell summarizes the content of each essay included in the book and provides suggestions for further research.

The remainder of the book is divided into three parts.

PART 1, ''Theoretical Foundations'' provides an overview of issues that are at the core of emotion research, and includes three chapters.

In CHAPTER 2, ''Explicating Emotions Across Languages and Cultures: A Semantic Approach'', Cliff Goddard discusses one of the most fertile issues in emotion research, that of semantic differences between languages in the realm of emotion terms. According to Goddard, such differences have been overlooked by previous research, as an equivalence between similar terms in different languages has often been assumed, with the result that little attention has been given to issues in translating instruments for data collection. However, since the terms used to communicate emotions reflect mental representation, or conceptualization of emotions, even slight differences at the semantic level may index discrepancies at the cognitive level that must be taken into consideration by cross-cultural psychology.

Goddard suggest that one way of going to the core of the problem of equivalence across languages is to apply the ''natural semantic metalanguage'' (NSM) approach, as proposed by Wierzbicka and himself in a number of publications (e.g. Goddard and Wierzbicka 1994). This framework allows a detailed semantic analysis of emotion terms, by stating meaning ''in the form of an explanatory paraphrase composed in a small, standardized and translatable metalanguage consist[ing] of so-called 'semantic primes''' (p. 23). In this chapter, Goddard provides examples in which the NSM framework is applied to a number of lexical items from different languages, as well as sample analyses of cultural scripts, or tacit norms regulating the expression of feelings in different cultures.

CHAPTER 3, ''Integrating Verbal and Nonverbal Emotion(al) Messages'', by Sally Planalp and Karen Knie, introduces three ''logics'', or models of communication, borrowed from O'Keefe (1988), that allow researchers to analyze verbal and non-verbal messages within an integrated approach. The three logics concern: (i) personal expression (''Expressive Logic''), (ii) mutual understanding and obeying conventions (''Conventional Logic'') and (iii) achievement of other goals, especially social ones (''Rhetorical Logic''). Within the Expressive logic, nonverbal behavior plays a fundamental role as it is often the privileged channel through which emotions that are ''pressing out'' are ''released'' from the body (p. 58). The Conventional logic privileges accurate communication and places greater focus on how emotional content is understood by the interlocutor. Here the roles of verbal and nonverbal channels can be extremely complex, as the meaning of verbal cues can only be interpreted in combination with nonverbal cues and vice-versa. Finally, from a Rhetorical perspective, the very process of interaction becomes central, as both sender goals and receiver reaction are considered. The aim of emotional messages here goes beyond simple mutual understanding, as it may involve ''managing one's self-presentation'' or ''managing the relationship between oneself and others'' (p. 64). In this section, Planalp and Knie discuss the potential roles of verbal and nonverbal cues in communicating the subtleties of emotion communication, as well as in providing the necessary flexibility for interactants to manage the exchange successfully. The authors also discuss the merits and pitfalls of a variety of research traditions and suggest approaches that may be useful in studying emotion communication as an integration of verbal and nonverbal cues, from a rhetorical perspective. Finally, the three logics are brought together and their mutual influences are explored.

Chapter 4, titled ''How to Do Emotions with Words: Emotionality in Conversations'' by Reinhard Fiehler, translated by Harold B. Gill, III and edited by Susan R. Fussell, provides an overview of Fiehler's model for the study of emotion communication within an interactionist framework. Fiehler distinguishes between three ''broad classes of communication tasks'': (i) the manifestation of emotions, (ii) the interpretation of emotions and (iii) the interactive processing of emotions (p. 85). Somewhat similarly to the three logics discussed by Planalp and Knie in Chapter 2, these three areas focus on the person who communicates emotional messages, on the receiver, and on the negotiation process that happens during interaction, respectively. The model is extremely detailed as several sub-categories are identified within each class. For example, a distinction is drawn between expression and thematization within the area of manifestation; furthermore, a systematic classification of manifestation areas (including physiological, verbal and non verbal manifestations) is provided. In the remainder of the chapter, a six-step framework for research on the communication of emotion is outlined and a sample analysis of therapy conversations is provided to exemplify how the concepts discussed in the chapter (e.g. Thematization) can be applied.

PART 2, ''Figurative Language in Emotional Communication'' is comprised of four chapters focusing especially on metaphors used during the communication of emotions. The underlying concept is that figurative language provides access to cognitive representations of emotions and is also more flexible and effective in the communication of shades of meaning than literal expressions.

In CHAPTER 5, ''Emotion Concepts: Social Constructionism and Cognitive Linguistics'', Zoltan Kövecses provides a critique to social constructionism in the study of emotion terminology within different languages. According to Kövecses, the main limitation of this approach is its lack of attention to figurative language and to the numerous nuances that the communication of emotion can take. As a result, surface differences between languages are mistakenly taken as evidence of differences in mental representations of emotions. On the other hand, Kövecses argues, analyses of figurative language conducted within the framework of cognitive linguistics bring underlying mental scheme to the surface by identifying all the semantic components of metaphors. Once these underlying meanings are identified, we can compare and contrast them across languages, and this will emphasize commonalities across cultures in the conceptualization of emotions. Evidence to support this claim is provided through analyses of the metaphor of anger as ''pressure in a container'' (p. 118) in different languages.

CHAPTER 6, ''What's Special About Figurative Language in Emotional Communication?'' by Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., John S. Leggitt and Elizabeth A. Turner, explores the pragmatic value of figurative language in the communication of emotions. It is argued that metaphors are not only more effective than literal language in expressing subtle meanings and intensity of emotions, but that they are also better able to trigger emotional reactions in listeners. The results of studies carried out by this team of researchers are summarized to support this claim. The role of irony in conveying shades of emotional content is also discussed.

CHAPTER 7, ''Conflict, Coherence, and Change in Brief Psychotherapy: A Metaphor Theme Analysis'' by Lynne Angus and Yifaht Korman, deals with metaphors used by clients during psychotherapy sessions to discuss depression and conflict in relationships. In particular, this chapter discusses the results of a study in which transcriptions of client-centered sessions were found to reveal changes in the selection of metaphors, and it is suggested that this could index developments in the client's conceptualizations of their experiences and, therefore, therapeutic change.

In CHAPTER 8, ''Conventional Metaphors for Depression'', Linda M. McMullen and John B. Conway outline the evolution of the conceptualization of depression over the last few centuries, as reflected in figurative expressions. Through analyses of metaphors employed by clients in psychotherapy sessions, the authors conclude that the modern metaphor of depression as ''descent'' has strong negative connotations that are rooted in Western culture. It is suggested that developing and awareness of the underlying ''network of associations'' (p. 179) of this metaphor represents a fundamental step towards the successful treatment of clients suffering from depression.

PART III, ''Social and Cultural Dimensions'', comprises four chapters whose main focus is placed on the practice of sharing emotions in interaction.

CHAPTER 9, ''Emotion, Verbal Expression, and the Social Sharing of Emotion'', by Bernard Rimé, Susanna Corsini, and Gwénola Herbette, is a review of studies conducted by this team of researchers on the drive to share one's emotions with others. Evidence gathered through a variety of research methods is presented to support the claim that in 60% of cases, emotions are indeed shared with significant relations on the same day they are experienced. The data presented further suggests that this claim holds true regardless of individual or cultural differences, although with some variation concerning sharing modalities.

In CHAPTER 10, ''The Language of Fear: The Communication of Intergroup Attitudes in Conversations About HIV and AIDS'', Jeffrey Pittam and Cynthia Gallois report on their study investigating fear-related terms used by young Australians to discuss issues pertaining to ADIS and HIV. The results of content analyses point to differences in word choice based on context, so that ''fear'' and ''scare/scary'' were most often selected in relation to global contexts, whereas ''shock'' and ''concern'' were preferred when discussing scenarios involving close friends becoming HIV positive.

CHAPTER 11, by Lara Honos-Webb, Linda M. Endres, Ayesha Shaikh, Elizabeth A. Harrik, James A. Lani, Lynne M. Knobloch-Fedders, Michael Surko and William B. Stiles, is titled ''Rewards and Risks of Exploring Negative Emotion: An Assimilation Model Account''. The chapter opens with an introduction to the assimilation model, which accounts for developments in clients' mental representation of theirexperiences throughout the process of psychotherapy. The model is then applied to data collected during therapy sessions, to illustrate how, on the one hand, encouraging clients to share their feelings about negative experiences can be beneficial, while, on the other hand, asking people to deal with negative emotions without the necessary support for these issues to be resolved can have serious detrimental effects.

CHAPTER 12, ''Blocking Emotions: The Face of Resistance'', by Kathleen W. Ferrara, concludes the book by exploring clients' reluctance to discuss negative emotions during psychotherapy. Through discourse analysis of therapy sessions, Ferrara identifies indirect requests by therapists as more likely to result in put offs by clients, while it is suggested that a balance between indirect and direct requests could be more effective in achieving client compliance. The implication is that, by identifying signals of resistance and by contrasting these tendencies through appropriate selection of linguistic means, therapists can become more effective in the treatment of their clients.

The interdisciplinary nature of this book is certainly one of its strongest points, as it allows readers to access research in a variety of areas that may be complementary to their own interests but that would otherwise remain outside their selection of readings. Similarly, novice researchers reading this book will receive an excellent introduction to a number of salient issues in emotion research.

On the other hand, the variety of themes and approaches presented in the essays can also be seen as a limitation in the sense that the focus of the book may appear excessively broad at times. Personally, although I did find all essays interesting, I must admit that I was definitely attracted more to those that were closer to my own interests. For example, I felt that too much emphasis was given to figurative language in the communication of emotions and to studies conducted in the context of psychotherapy. I would have liked to see more studies on interactions in everyday settings, especially from a cross-cultural perspective. The choice of focusing on verbal communication alone, although argued convincingly by Fussell in the introductory chapter, also felt rather restrictive, especially in light of the observations made by Planalp and Knie in Chapter 3. However, these remarks say more about the reviewer's personal preferences than about the merits of the book. Overall, this would be a valuable addition to any emotion researcher's library.

Goddard , C. & Wierzbicka, A. (Eds.) 1994. Semantic and lexical universals - Theory and empirical findings. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

O'Keefe, B. J. (1988). The logic of message design: Individual differences in reasoning about communication. Communication Monographs, 55, 80-103.
Antonella Strambi recently completed a doctoral programme at the University of Sydney (Australia), before becoming a Lecturer in Italian language and culture at Flinders University. Her research interests have been mainly in the area of second language learning and teaching methodology, with a particular focus on the use of information and communication technology for pedagogical purposes. More recently, however, she has been involved in several projects investigating emotion display and self-disclosure from a cross-cultural perspective.

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