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Review of  Les bonnes raisons des émotions

Reviewer: Vasilica Le Floch
Book Title: Les bonnes raisons des émotions
Book Author: Christopher Plant
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.4782

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AUTHOR: Christian Plantin
TITLE: Les bonnes raisons des émotions
SUBTITLE: Principes et méthode pour l'étude du discours émotionné
SERIES TITLE: Sciences pour la communication - Volume 94
YEAR: 2011

Vasilica Le Floch, IDEA Research Group, IUT Charlemagne, Université Nancy 2, France.


This book offers a holistic, non-psychological approach to emotion, seen not as
a Passive Response to a Stimulus, but as a meaningful activity, shaping
discourse and speech situations. Following the notion of the argumentative
construction of emotions, it defends the thesis that reason and emotion cannot
be separated in ordinary argumentative discourse. The dichotomy ''reason vs.
emotion'', a fundamental element of a preconceived notion dominating
argumentation studies that is sometimes found in discourse studies, is now being
questioned. According to the author, this opposition impairs the observation and
analysis of written and spoken emotions, leading to studies on the ordinary
argumentation in the stalemate of an ''un-emotive'', almost pathological language.
Argumentative situations are profoundly emotional, as they bring into play
values that express the interests and found the identity of speakers.

Chapter 1 (pages 5-15) deals with terminology and with different terms used to
describe emotions. The author suggests a list of seven French nouns ''affect,
emotion, éprouvé, humeur, passion, pathos, sentiment'' that cover the field of
emotions. Each of these words bears the burden of the past and refers to a field
or genre. For example, ''passion'' reflects on philosophy, ''pathos'' on rhetoric
and ''humeur'' on medicine. In French linguistics, we talk about the ''grammar of
feelings'' and the ''terms of emotion'' (Balibar-Mrabti, 1995). The author also
deals with other lexical classifications (e.g. verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and
notes that in French, these terms are not represented in all grammatical

Chapter 2 (pages 17-26) deals with rhetoric, the concept of pathos, and the
treatment of emotion in discourse. In Aristotle's rhetoric, pathos is formed by
pairs of emotions. Rhetoric is a discourse technique aiming to trigger an
action; making someone think, say, feel, and finally, take action. In order to
talk about emotions within a discursive perspective, it is not nouns that we
should use, but rather verbs, or predicates of action.

In Chapter 3 (pages 27-44), due to the opposition of the notions of ethos,
pathos and logos, the author sees the person as an argumentative resource. The
person becomes a stylistic category allowing linguistic techniques of emotional
construction to be analysed, along with people inside discourse.

In Chapter 4 (pages 45-61), argumentative practice is defined as a go-between
activity, as it attempts to demonstrate without upsetting. However, emotion in
discourse is seen from two distinct angles: the emotional and the emotive.
Emotion as the ''degradation'' of discourse can be intentionally exploited by the
orator. This chapter concludes with the inseparability of the reason-emotion
pair. This reasoning is based on Perelman's ''Traité de l'argumentation'' (1976,
p. 47).

With regard to Chapter 5 (pages 63-97), it shows that the fallacy theory is the
only argumentation theory that undertakes the study of emotions, aiming at
eliminating them. The author takes up W. W. Fearnside's ''Fallacy: The
Counterfeit of Argument'' (1959), for whom fallacy is a pseudo-argument. The
author proposes a list of fallacious emotions, which is truly at the heart of
the debate on emotions.

Chapter 6 (pages 99-111) offers a moral anthropology perspective of discourse.
Two approaches are analysed: that proposed by ''Port-Royal Logic'' (1965),
focusing on sophisms and false reasonings; and the one tackled by Mill in his ''A
System of Logic'' (1866). Whether we adhere or not to moral philosophy or to
logical philosophy, these two approaches signal that the fallacy theory is
impossible without moral anthropology and the philosophy of spirit.

Chapter 7 (pages 113-133) studies emotions within the framework of a ''before,
during and after'' emotional scenario that covers the emotional situation and its
developments. The starting point is the idea that an emotion is the result of a
stimulus, according to the Stimulus - Response model. The curves used to
describe emotion allow us to understand its phasic aspects. We are reminded that
the thymic component comes into play, defined as a basic psychic tone or ''a
normal state of composure'', as described by Wierzbicka (1995). The study shows
that every individual has unique emotional abilities and that these abilities
are employed to read the emotions of others as well as to express personal emotions.

Chapter 8 (pages 135-163) deals with the manifestation of emotions in language.
It presents the instruments and concepts taking part in the discursive
construction of emotions. The linguistic approach to emotional discourse
differentiates between emotional speech (i.e. expression of an experienced
emotion) and emotive speech (i.e. expression of a controlled, shaped emotion).
The ''source -- place -- emotion'' relation allows us to understand the semantic
structure of emotions. To identify the terms of emotion, a linguist's work is
based on dictionary data. The analysis of emotional speech can be undertaken on
one of the following three levels: expression, pragmatics and interaction.
Although linguists have inventories of instruments available for observing
emotions (Kerbrat-Orecchioni, 2000), it is impossible to organise these
instruments in such a way as to describe a linguistic system of emotions and to
describe how speech works in order to express or signify an emotion. These
instruments act through immediate identification or by index development.

Chapter 9 (pages 165-183) deals with the general principles that organise the
production and construction of emotion within discourse. The rules of rhetoric
production of emotions are presented in detail and summarised in a table
(according to Lausberg, 1971). Ungerer's approach (1997) is also useful; he
proposes an analysis of emotions released by linguistic triggers according to
four principles of emotional inferencing (principles of emotional relevance, a
principle of emotional evaluation, a principle of intensity of presentation and
a principle of emotional content). In the final part of the chapter, the author
proposes a twelve-axis system to organise emotive discourse, which has been
developed from the data and instruments presented in previous chapters. These
twelve axes are: consent, type of event, type of person, quantity/intensity,
analogy, time, place, distance, causality/agentivity, consequences, control, and

In the “Transition” (pages 185-196), the author summarises the major principles
of the construction of emotional speech. The system of strategic resources,
controlled by the participants in a communication act, allows us to see that in
ordinary speech, emotions and linguistic reasons are built on the same principles.

The second part of this work, “Studies” (pages 197-294), presents a series of
seven studies. The subject of the first study (pages 197-204) is a letter
published in Télérama, in its letters to the editor. It concerns the reaction of
a reader to France’s decision to deport Paolo Persichetti to Italy. Four
distinct levels are found within the argumentative construction: the official
discourse, the rebuttal of the official discourse, the concession, and the
rebuttal of the concession. The various stages of the construction of feelings
are also highlighted. There are three forms of expression of emotion- rage,
shame, and bitterness- culminating in a unique emotional point or enthymeme.

The second study (pages 205-213) focuses on an article published on 13 February
1997 in Le Figaro. The author of the study shows the construction of emotion
from the title (cause of the emotion + emotion). The emotion constructed in the
article is fear; the dysphoric orientation of the text is based on negative
terms and negations. The analysis of the article highlights the construction
mechanisms of an emotion and offers a particularly interesting interpretative
framework. The article also suggests a reassuring solution to the feeling of
fear brought about. The final solution marks the end of the emotional journey.

The third study (pages 215-229) focuses on the address made by journalist Yann
de Kerorguen on the subject of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The text dates back to 1992.
It is demonstrated that the argument has a dialogic structure. The construction
of feelings and their arguments are central to the study. As in the previous
study, the author focuses on the topoi that construct emotion: what, who, how
many, when, why, how, etc.

The fourth study (pages 231-239) deals with an oral interaction between eleven
people, with a total duration of about 50 minutes. The study reproduces some
passages from the transcript. The analysis of emotions brings answers to two
main questions: i. Who experiences what?; ii. and Why? The triggers and the
arguments are described in detail. The study offers a glimpse of an interesting
line of study which is that of the relationship between emotion and the
behaviour which demonstrates the emotion, particularly in terms of language
(e.g. intonation, elisions, pauses, etc.).

In the fifth study (pages 241-252) the author focuses on a letter detailing
several incidents which took place in a restaurant during a meal. The events are
presented chronologically and the emotions are argumented. The graphical
representation of the emotional journey is a particularly interesting tool of
interpretation. It is shown that cultural framework, background, and assumptions
contribute to the transmission of emotions.

The sixth study (pages 253-277) deals with an oral interaction between two
people, concerning an incident in which one of these persons was a victim. As
noted by the author of the work, the transcript of the dialogue between the two
people does not capture the interactional events. The transcript captures the
emotion itself, but cannot account for all of the intonations and gestures. The
designation of the emotions remains the focal point of the study. The diagram
which describes the emotional journey is a relevant tool. Just as in Study 5,
the satisfaction-type feeling puts an end to the emotional journey.

The final study (pages 279-294) deals with a video clip of the electoral
campaign for the 2006 Presidential Election in Mexico, integrating aural and
visual dimensions. This study is particularly interesting because it proposes an
interpretative and analytical framework for another type of data: the video
clip. Four elements are taken into account: the text, the image-plan (close-up,
foreground), the sound, and the lighting. The author demonstrates the way in
which all these elements contribute to the construction of the emotion, which in
this case is fear. However, it should be noted that this emotion is not
explicitly named in the video clip.


We should start by noting the merit of proposing a formalised list of emotions
and instruments available to the linguist because it creates a path to
identifying and analysing emotions. The book offers an outstanding summary of
different approaches to both argumentative and emotional discourse. It should be
noted that Chapter 5 proposes a list of fallacious emotions, which is truly at
the heart of the debate on emotions. The list invites reflection and causes
certain questions to be asked; it may turn out to be useful for discourse
theoreticians, stylistics specialists and sociologists, among others.

The studies composing the second part of the work provide examples and models
for analysis. The analytical approach employed seems usable not only for
linguists, but also in the analysis of discourse in general, whether literary,
political or even commercial. The diagrams proposed to analyse emotions and the
tables that centralise arguments are true reading models applicable to any
emotional discourse.

It should also be noted that the bibliography is extremely rich and the
theoretical framework very elaborate. It is a book rich in references, and
pleasant to follow in terms of presentation, a real concern for presentation,
and clarity. The genuine educational approach (e.g. the use of italics, bold
letters and diagrams) helps the reader to better follow the author's arguments.

Nevertheless, there are some shortcomings of the book as a final product,
especially in terms of punctuation. Quotation marks and angle quotes are used
alternatively (e.g. p. 55). In French punctuation, the rule is one space before
double punctuation marks; an absence of spacing is particularly noticeable in
the case of angle quotes.

By opposing the thesis, according to which ''emotion degrades discourse'', Plantin
identifies the traces of emotive communication, defined by Caffi and Janney
(1994, p. 348) as ''the intentional strategic signalling of affective information
in speech and writing (e.g. evaluative dispositions, evidential commitments,
volitional stances, relational orientations, degrees of emphasis, etc.) in order
to influence partner's interpretation of situations and reach different goals''.
Emotional communication is ''a type of spontaneous, unintentional leakage or
bursting out of emotion in speech'' (ibid.). It is obvious that written discourse
is placed in the emotive communication category, with the exception of rare
traces of emotional communication, which can be identified in the transcriptions
of real verbal interactions. Written discourse leaves little place for
spontaneous manifestations of emotion. As demonstrated by the seven studies,
written texts allow for a detailed analysis of the linguistic forms of emotions
but cannot take into account behaviour and aural features.

Even if in ordinary discourse emotion and reason are integral and are carried by
the same words and lexical or phrasal constructions, emotion is not seen as a
strategy for expression, but rather as a strategy for interaction. Causing
emotion means transferring cognitive and linguistic content, thus forcing the
speaker to take a stand on this content. The argumentative construction of
emotions, as presented in this work, covers five major aspects: the linguistic
construction of an emotion, the display of an emotion, the doubting of the
emotion displayed, the disagreement on the emotion displayed, and the
justification of the emotion. The doubting of the emotion displayed and the
disagreement on it are the two aspects which point to the limits of this
approach, which are intrinsic limits applicable to all studies on emotions: How
do you distinguish a true display of feelings from a false one? The emotional
state demonstrated by discourse is inexorably dependent on the language act. The
disparity present between emotions and the linguistic expression of emotions
reminds us once more that everything is language. Emotion takes the form and the
manifestation given to it by language. Emotional discourse is not identified
with emotion. It indicates or demonstrates emotion.

In conclusion, it should be reiterated that this study is a remarkable
contribution to the identification and the description of emotions in discourse.


Arnauld, Antoine & Nicole, Pierre. 1662/1965. La logique ou l'art de penser
contenant outre les règles communes, plusieurs observations nouvelles propres à
former le jugement. La logique de Port-Royal. Paris: PUF.

Balibar-Mrabti, Antoinette. 1995. Une étude de la combinatoire des noms de
sentiment dans une grammaire locale. Langue française 105. 88-97.

Caffi, Claudia & Janney, Richard. 1994. Toward a Pragmatics of Emotive
Communication. Journal of Pragmatics 21. 325-373.

Fearnside, Ward W. & Holther, William B. 1959. Fallacy: The Counterfeit of
Argument. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, Catherine. 2000. Quelle place pour les émotions dans la
linguistique du XXe siècle ? Remarques et aperçus. In Plantin, Christian et al.
2000. Les émotions dans les interactions. Lyon : PUL.

Lausberg, Heinrich. 1963/1971. Elemente der literarischen Rhetorik. München: Max

Mill, John Stuart. 1843. A System of Logic: Raciocinative and Inductive. French
translation, 1866. Système de logique déductive et inductive. Paris: Librairie
philosophique de Ladrange.

Perelman, Chaïm & Olbrechts-Tyteca, Lucie. 1958/1976. Traité de l'argumentation.
La nouvelle rhétorique. Bruxelles: Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles.

Ungerer, Friedrich. 1997. Emotions and emotional language in English and German
News Stories. In Niemer, Susanne & Dirven, René (eds). 1997. The Language of
Emotion. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1995. The Relevance of Language to the Study of Emotion. In
Niemer, Susanne & Dirven, René (eds). 1997. The Language of Emotion. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins.

Vasilica Le Floch is a lecturer at IUT Charlemagne, Nancy 2 University, France. She belongs to the IDEA research group (Interdisciplinarity in English Studies). Her main research interests include language subjectivity, punctuation, translation and corpus linguistics. She is also working in the field of computational linguistics.

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