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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

Chapter 2 - Words and Concepts


This chapter focuses on how emotions are expressed, enacted and communicated in language. Although words such as “anger,” “joy,” and “fear” sound like names for precisely defined psychological objects, their exact descriptive meaning is hard to pin down. Disagreements about which words count as emotion names are common both within and across societies, with language encoding emotional events in different ways depending on circumstances. Emotion words also serve a range of pragmatic and performative functions in conversations and arguments. They can convey blame or assign credit, and establish, maintain or break social connections as well as merely describe personal experience. No all-purpose representational system seems capable of explaining this diversity. Indeed, the main purpose of emotional language may be to facilitate various forms of social influence rather than merely to codify emotional distinctions relating to personal experience.