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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Reference:

Pragmatic potential of emotional utterances in literary texts

Zhgun Daria

Professor of the Department of Asian Studies at Catholic University of Daegu

41528, Yuzhnaya Koreya, g. Daegu, ul. 84 gonhang-Ro, 105

daria_1610@mail.ru

 

 

DOI:

10.25136/1339-3057.2019.3.29413

Review date:

02-04-2019


Publish date:

10-10-2019


Abstract.

The subject of the article is emotional utterances in literary texts. The research is aimed at revealing and studying the pragmatic potential of such utterances. Pragmatic potential is defined as additional information that needs to be decoded. A literary text has been chosen as the source of emotional utterances because it creates the circumstances for the fullest functional manifestation of their pragmatic potential. The author meticulously studies such linguistic means of expressing emotions as nomination, description, tropes and figures of speech. Research methods include definition, semantic and pragmatic analyses of linguistic means of expressing emotions, selected by the continuous sampling method. The processing of the factual material has also been performed by the method of contextual determination. The novelty of this research is substantiated by the combined approach to the analysis of emotional utterances and by revealing hidden meanings of both, expressed and implied emotions. The analysis has shown that emotional utterances provide better understanding of the speaker’s illocution, and that the intensity of illocution is influenced by the choice of linguistic means. The expression or implication of emotions intensifies the speaker’s intention and creates a stronger pragmatic effect. Furthermore, it has been determined that emotional utterances may perform several illocutionary acts, but it is context that reveals the true intention.

Keywords: seme, literary text, illocution, speech act, pragmatic potential, pragmatics, emotivity, emotional utterance, emotion, appraisal

“We are verbivores, a species that lives on words, and the meaning and use of language are bound to be among the major things we ponder, share and dispute”

S. Pinker

According to the latest linguistic paradigm of anthropocentrism, language performs the role of a mediator to the human inner world, and man stands in the center of all communicative events. A lot of researchers study language as a means of communication, rather than explore its systemic and structural aspects. Understanding the necessity to switch from the language structure to the speaker and their communicative behavior has stipulated the turn to pragmatics.

Pragmatics studies language in use and describes linguistic expressions in terms of human activity [1, p. 362]. Its goal is to study speech acts with situations in which they are fulfilled, and other things that might influence meaning besides the semantic system. The subject matter of pragmatics is the “choice of linguistic means from the available repertoire for a better expression of one’s thoughts and/or feelings [...] and for a better influence on the listener or reader – in order to convince, excite or affect him, make him laugh or confuse” [2, p. 332]. So, the pragmatic approach to the study of language phenomena helps to reveal the communicative role of a language unit, its usage by the addresser as a means of impact, and its correlation with the addresser’s behavior and activity [3, 2006, p. 1].

As a system, language does not only express thoughts, but also feelings and emotions of a person: language functions as a context in emotion perception [4, p. 327]. Being reactions to the inner and/or outer stimulant, aimed at satisfying one’s needs, emotions have been in the center of a scientific interest of psychologists and linguists for several decades. However, towards the end of the XX and the beginning of the XXI centuries the world of linguistics switched to “the emotional turn” [5] and the role of emotions in pragmatics and discourse has increased [6]. It has led to the rise of research papers on the perlocutionary function, connected with the change of an addressee’s emotional state, and on emotivity (inherent language property to express emotions by its means [7, p. 24]) as one of the language basic pragmatic components. A new theory has also emerged – Theory of Affective Pragmatics (TAP) – which focuses on what emotional expressions mean in context [8].

With regard to emotions, pragmatics is interested in “how emotion-related utterances are produced in specific socio-communicative contexts, and how they can be interpreted by the recipients to make sense of their emotional impact or content” [9]. It is true that emotional expressions can be rich communicative devices. The examples of informational richness of emotional expressions include widening of eyes in fear, scrunching of the noise in disgust, blushing of the face in shame or embarrassment, etc. [10]. In language, emotion is also a very important part of every kind of communication, and it can be found at all linguistic levels. In many cases the feeling of a certain emotion is considered appropriate and fits response or reaction to a certain event, and since many emotions are not always readily detectable by others, it is common to inform other people about them [11, p. 78]. However, emotional utterances do much more than simply expressing and communicating emotions. They possess a certain pragmatic meaning, i.e. the intention of the speaker to inform, command, warn, complain or praise [12], and a rich pragmatic potential that needs to be revealed.

Pragmatic potential is additional information created by the speaker/writer that needs to be decoded by the addressee. It contains the hidden abilities of language units to convey “all general content of an utterance, including additional implied information” [13, p. 117]. Pragmatic potential of a language and communication is connected with a person’s attitude to language signs and with the expression of his/her appraisals, emotions and intentions in speech acts and discourse [14, p. 56].

Emotional utterances can be found in any text, but it is literary text that especially aims at influencing the emotions and feelings of its addressee. Literature helps to discover the pragmatic potential of emotional utterances, because “the world of fiction is a prime site for the display and experience of emotions: emotion is to fiction as the truth is to science” [15, p. 39]. Moreover, a literary text is characterized by the most complete functional manifestation of the pragmatic potential of emotional notions, because it correlates with a real speech [16, p. 92]. Therefore, literary texts also provide expanded context for interpretation and show that it is important to go beyond the sentence level to understand the communicative functions and the pragmatic potential of emotional utterances.

Pragmatic potential of emotional utterances is connected with the speaker’s/ writer’s choice of a language unit. Studying and revealing pragmatic potential of an emotional utterance helps to understand the speaker’s/ writer’s intention – illocution. Emotional utterances, or expressives, show how the speaker feels about a particular situation [17]. Such utterances with pragmatic potential include those that name, describe and express emotions by means of tropes and figures of speech.

Nomination plays an important role in the achievement of the pragmatic effect. As a verbal and cognitive process, the act of nomination aims at either the choice of the naming unit existing in the language, or at the creation of a suitable name for it [18, p. 42]. The structure of the act of nomination includes the speaker’s intention and linguistic means of its realization. On top of that, the leading role in the speech activity is performed by the intertwining of the speaker’s intentions with his/her personal meaning [18, p. 47]. It points to the presence of the pragmatic potential of the speaker’s utterances. Let us look at some examples.

(1) He was irritated to find his height was wrong. It wasn’t labeled Height it was just the number. But it was unmistakable. Five feet, eleven inches… He edited the number and hit save [19, p. 3].

The emotional state of irritation is obvious in the example, because it is expressed by direct nomination – participle irritated. Below is the definition and the semantic analysis of the word:

*Irritated – feeling mental painfulness or distress [20]

**distress – pain or suffering affecting the body, a bodily part, or the mind

***suffering – state of being in a great physical or mental strain and stress [21]

The synonyms of the word include aggravated, annoyed, bothered, exasperated, vexed , angry [21].

The semantic analysis of the lexeme “irritated” shows that the emotion can cause stress and suffering and make its experiencer even feel angry and vexed. However, it does not reveal its full potential. It is the context that helps to discover the cause of the emotion – wrong height of the main character which he saw in the computer system. Thus, the pragmatic potential of the participle irritated lies in the disapproval of lies and mistakes that caused the main character to take action – correct the information in the system without asking for permission.

(2)For goodness sake, hold your tongue,” she interrupted, tears of annoyance in her eyes [22, p. 112].

In this example the emotional state is expressed by the noun annoyance , defined as follows:

*feeling of vexation or trouble

**trouble – a condition of distress or difficulty

***distress – pain or suffering affecting the body, or the mind

****suffering – state of being in a great physical or mental strain and stress [21].

The atmosphere of high tension in the sentence is created by the direct nomination (tears of annoyance ), interjection (for goodness sake ), imperative mood (hold your tongue ) and the description of the verbal behavior of the heroine (she interrupted ). The pragmatic potential includes the woman’s strong dislike and intolerance of her husband and her unwillingness to listen to him.

(3) “Isn’t it dreadful? He’s run away from his wife” [22, p. 32].

The sentence expresses Miss Waterford’s negative appraisal of Mr. Strickland’s behavior. The pragmatic content is stipulated by the negative semantics of the adjective dreadful (extremely bad, distasteful, unpleasant, or shocking), and the cause of such emotion (He’s run away from his wife) . The pragmatic meaning of judgement can be revealed in the example.

(4) A rush of hatred overwhelms me. Hatred for my life, for its narrowness and cramped spaces; hatred for Angelica Marston, with her secretive smile and rich parents; hatred for Hana, for being so stupid and careless and stubborn, first and foremost, and for leaving me behind before I was ready to be left; and underneath all those layers something else, too, some white-hot blade of unhappiness flashing in the very deepest part of me. I can’t name it, or even focus on it clearly, but somehow I understand that this—this other thing—makes me the angriest of all [23, p. 316].

In this passage hatred is mixed with unhappiness and anger. The pragmatic potential can be discovered in the description of a negative emotive and appraisive attitude and includes regret (its narrowness and cramped spaces ), jealousy (with her secretive smile and rich parents ) and blame (for being so stupid and careless and stubborn ).

The aforementioned examples show that units, naming emotional states, primarily reveal their semantic potential. However, definition and synonym analyses do not discover their full potential, because many words, including those denoting emotions, have both fixed and potential meaning. It means that parts of a word’s meaning are activated in different contexts in which they are exploited. It is the context analysis that helps to reveal the pragmatic potential. Pragmatic meanings may include blame, disdain, disgust, humiliation, judgement and many more.

Utterances, describing emotional states, also possess pragmatic potential. Unlike direct nomination, description concentrates on external manifestations of emotions (various facial expressions, body movement and vegetative reactions).

Below are some examples.

(5) My legs are wobbly, and I have to steady myself with one hand against the desk. I take a deep breath, trying to pull it together [23, p. 82].

The phrases my legs are wobbly, I have to steady myself, I take a deep breath indicate several possible emotions. Weak muscular tone, body tremor, blushing, voice changes and hard breathing may be physiological symptoms of fear or worry. “Wobbly” legs indicate, however, that it is more fear than worry, because with fear “the body freezes...allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction” [24, p. 7]. Also, a broader context helps to understand that the girl is feeling fear:

“What the hell were you thinking?”

The harshness in his voice startles me. I’ve never been cursed at by a teacher.

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice comes out sounding thinner, younger, than I wanted it to. I stand up so I’m not just sitting there looking up at him like a little kid. My legs are wobbly, and I have to steady myself with one hand against the desk. I take a deep breath, trying to pull it together [23, p. 82].

The pragmatic potential is revealed in the description of the physiological reaction to the situation and implies a high degree of fear with its ability to make one’s body or mind numb. The idiom pull it together (to regain one’s composure [21]) also has a pragmatically relevant property. Thus, the pragmatic potential of the emotional utterances include the intention to convey the influence of fear on self-possession and calm.

(6) “Look, look!” Nat was bouncing up and down excitedly. Heather turned just as a series of fireworks—green, red, a shower of golden sparks—exploded in the east, just above the tree line. Nat was laughing like a maniac. “What the hell?” [25, p. 273].

The pragmatic potential can be discovered in the description of the state of happiness. The metaphor bounce up (to walk with springing steps [21]) and comparison like a maniac (a person who behaves in a very wild, violent way; mentally ill [Webster’s Dictionary]) imply a high degree of the emotion, bordering on insanity.

(7) “What do you mean?” Father shouts again, spittle flying into his beard. Veins pulse under his mahogany skin, stark against the red agbada he wears [26, p. 50].

The description of father’s behavior (shout, spittle, pulsing veins) point out his strong anger. The pragmatic potential of emotional utterances in this passage is a hidden threat.

Thus, the analysis of the examples demonstrates that description of emotions also possesses a strong pragmatic potential. It can convey the valency, intensity and type of emotion. Moreover, description helps to uncover peculiar properties of emotions.

Among other rich means of creating and intensifying pragmatic potential of emotional utterances in fiction are tropes and figures of speech. One of such devices is an epithet – a word (or a word phrase), characterizing an object or some phenomenon and emphasizing some of their specific qualities [27, p. 114]. Let us look at some examples.

(8) He was staring at the car in disbelief, in befuddlement, in unconcealed jaw-sagging awe, gawking at its fluid steamlined shape, at its gleaming futuristic dashboard [28, p. 163].

The object of the appraisal in the example is the man who was transferred into the past. To describe his emotional state, or rather physiological reaction to it, the epithet jaw-sagging, represented by a compound adjective, is used:

*to sag to droop, sink, or settle from or as if from pressure

** pressure – the burden of physical or mental distress

***distress – pain or suffering affecting the body, or the mind [21]

The pragmatic potential of the epithet includes the implication of a high degree of fear that has an uncontrollable influence and pressure on its experiencer. The example also shows the increase of an illocutionary force of the utterance, represented by emotional states with different intensity: disbelief befuddlement unconcealed jaw-sagging awe.

Below are more illustrations with epithets implying physiological reaction of a speaker to their emotional state:

(9) Nita loved skiing and mountaineering; he was put in a state of mortal fear as soon as he felt the treacherous snow beneath his skis [29, p. 76].

(10) Now he had made just such a discovery, and he was surprised to find that the answer was absolute bowel-loosening terror [19, p. 2].

Both examples imply the degree of experienced emotions. In sentence (9) fear is compared to death:

*mortal – deadly; marked by great intensity or severity

*severity – the condition of being very bad, serious, unpleasant, or harsh [21].

In sentence (10) the epithet, expressed by a compound adjective bowel-loosening , describes terror. If something (in this case, terror) makes the bowels loose, it means it leads to the uncontrolled movement of the bowels, which implies intensity of the emotion.

The pragmatic potential of all epithets lies in the fact that they express a negative connotation of emotions (seme “bad”) and point at their high degree (semes “intensity”, “severity”). Their pragmatics also includes characteristics, such as image creation, appraisal determination, information efficiency increase and attraction of the reader’s attention to emotional state of the characters.

Another frequently used device that impacts the reader on a linguistic level is a metaphor. A metaphor is defined as a word or word phrase used in their figurative meaning based on the similarity between two subjects or phenomena in any aspect. Metaphors are “polyfunctional”, but in many of their functions they hide a specific influence on the addressee [30, p. 11], because metaphors can “overcome barriers of outer layers of the recipient’s consciousness and take place in the deep structure of the reality perception” [31, p. 192]. Metaphors belong to the realm of pragmatics since they are an intentionally made by language users departure from the literal sense of certain lexical items, by relating it to another entity [32, p. 1]. The speaker, using metaphors aimed at the pragmatic content, does not change the utterance in terms of quantity, but in terms of quality [Dotmurzieva, 2006, p. 12]. Let us review some examples.

(11) His ignoring of her maddened Mrs. Fletcher almost more than she could bear. 'I'm talking to you!' she stormed [33, p. 194].

The metaphor stormed is defined as follows:

*to storm – to rush about or move impetuously, violently, or angrily

– to be in or to exhibit a violent passion [21].

The pragmatic potential of the metaphor is to inform the reader about strong and uncontrollable anger of the main character, resulting in her disrespect to her husband.

(12) She imagined Abigail going into a hotel room with a strange man and him treating her the way that man treated Jane. Rage ballooned. She imagined grabbing him by the hair on the back of his head and smashing his face over and over against some sort of concrete surface… [34, p. 240].

The intensity of the emotion is conveyed by the verb ballooned :

*to balloon – to increase rapidly

**rapidly – fast, hastily

***hastily – with a lack of careful thought, irritably [21].

The definition analysis of the verb reveals the implied emotion the woman is also experiencing – irritation. The pragmatics of the metaphor includes the woman’s disapproval of male violence and intolerance towards ill treatment of women.

(13) The guilt has been a tumour eating away at me, and now it’s worse than ever [35, p. 168].

In this example, the metaphor tumour is used. Dictionaries define it the following way:

*tumour – an abnormal uncontrollable benign or malignant new growth of tissue [21].

With the respect to guilt, the metaphor implies the pragmatic potential of the emotion – its negative appraisal and ability to make one feel on edge, defensive or desperate.

(14) “Thank you,” I finally speak. “I would be honored

“But unfortunately Amari cannot”, mother cuts in frowning, without the slightest hint of sadness… The excitement growing in my chestdeflates [26, p. 43].

The metaphor deflates , used to convey the emotional state of the girl, is defined in the following way:

*to cause the size, importance, or effectiveness to contract [21].

Semantically, it characterizes the reduction of the excitement. Pragmatically, however, there is more to the word and the whole emotional utterance: the pragmatic potential of the verb lies in the fact that the girl’s mother can ruin her positive emotions very fast, neglecting her true feelings and desires.

The analysis of just a few examples with metaphors proves that they are very useful in conveying subtleties of emotional experience. Metaphors can perform various pragmatic functions, including expressive, informative, appellative, manipulative, etc.

Another interesting device of expressing emotional states is enallage. Enallage is the result of linguistically creative thinking that leads to the appearance of an asymmetry between semantic and syntactic functions of a word. That way, a word can be used in a syntactic function that is untypical for it, or parts of the sentence can perform an untypical semantic function [36].The displacement of a word performs several pragmatic functions which can be observed in the examples below.

(15) It had been raining steadily all morning and as Jane drove back into Pirriwee it got so heavy she had to turn up the radio and put the wipers on fast, panicky mode [34, p. 368].

In this passage the attribute panicky is syntactically referred to the noun mode , but semantically it is connected with a different noun which is implied – Jane . The enallage in this example helps to convey the emotional state of the girl, who is going on a trivia night at her son’s school. Her panic must be so strong that it is “transferred” through the wipers of her car.

A similar process takes place in the next example.

(16) Now the dam broke, and she was flooded, drowning in rage and hate. “Come on,” she said. She was surprised she still sounded the same, when inside of her was a sucking blackness, a furious noise [25, p. 400].

The adjective furious , conveying an emotional state of a person, takes the position of an attribute defining the noun noise . Semantically, however, it is connected with the pronoun she .

Thus, an enallage gives a literary text special expressivity. Its pragmatic function consists in its ability to create specific emotional perception of an object or phenomenon, and cause positive or negative appraisal of it. The pragmatic potential of the enallage is also to implicitly convey the emotions of the main character.

The aforementioned analysis of the examples shows that emotional utterances can be either expressed or implied. As a result, the speaker’s intention can be either openly manifested or hidden. Implicature involves two meanings: the literal content (the sentence meaning) and the intended message (the speaker meaning) [37, p. 378]. Implication takes place because “people are not just in the business of downloading information into each other’s heads, but as social animals concerned with the impressions they make” [Pinker, 2007, p. 379].

Implied meanings, existing in the semantic structure of a language unit, are one of the most important ways of creating emotivity and pragmatic potential:

(17) “SAY THAT AGAIN! SAY THAT ONE MORE TIME AND I SWEAR YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PLAY IN THAT GAME!” she roars at him [38, p. 78].

The situation described in the passage includes pragmatic information. The reason of the appraisal is not expressed, but can be deducted from the context: the teacher was insulted by her students. Repetition and exclamation imply deep irritation, hatred and despair of the woman and pragmatically convey warning or even a threat.

(18)How the hell did this happen? Why weren’t you and Bonnie watching what she was doing? You fix it! Fix it now!” [34, p. 336].

The passage implies a negative attitude of the woman towards her ex-husband. The emotional coloring is intended to affect the addressee and the utterance is pragmatically loaded. The whole utterance implies the following pragmatic potential: blame and negative appraisal of the husband’s behavior and carelessness about the way he brings up their daughter.

Implied meaning of emotional utterances can cause trouble in understanding the speaker’s intention, because one and the same utterance can have several illocutionary goals. To explain further, let us consider some examples.

(19)Go to hell,” he answered briefly [22, p. 133].

Here communicative intention is implied. The expression Go to hell and the adverb briefly signals the speaker’s exasperation, strong anger and irritation. The pragmatic potential of the utterance is the desire of the speaker to stop the conversation. The phrase Go to hell can be used in order to achieve multiple goals: to ask the person to leave the speaker alone, to insult him and show disrespect. So, the intensity of the utterance is not totally inherent in the construction, but results from the expression of the emotional state of the speaker.

(20) “Fool! What in the God’s name is wrong with you?” Once again every eye in the Ahere is on me. Even little Bisi stares me down [26, p. 13]

This passage contains several emotional utterances. Pejorative Fool! , used with the exclamation, the expression in the God’s name, and a phrasal verb to stare down with a derogatory connotation (look fixedly at someone, typically in a hostile or intimidating way [39]) reveal a negative emotional state of the characters – fury. The pragmatic potential includes condemnation of the girl’s action that could have led to everybody’s death. It may also imply surprise or insult.

The conducted analysis of the empirical data demonstrates that emotional utterances possess a rich pragmatic potential that determines itself in the formation of positive and negative reactions, states and attitudes. These reactions and states can be either expressed or implied by means of nomination, description and tropes and figures of speech. In many cases, the reasons for veiling emotions in utterances include the attempt to avoid criticism, signal understanding of the relationship, or on the contrary, exaggerate emotions without being rude. Also, as it has been shown in the examples, emotional utterances demonstrate a richer meaning if studied in a communication situation, or context. It is often the context that influences the outcome of pragmatic interpretation and helps to discover new emotive meanings.

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