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THE OPPOSITION OF EMOTIONALLY COLOURED AND EMOTIONALLY NEUTRAL VOCABULARY
There are people who are apt to assume that speech is a sort of device for making statements. They forget its numerous other functions. Speech also expresses the speaker’s attitude to what he is talking about, his emotional reaction, his relations with his audience. He may wish to warn, to influence people, to express his approval or disapproval or to make some
parts of what he says more emphatic. All these pragmatic factors introduce into the lexical meaning of words additional overtones. These again are apt to be confused. Using terms like “expressive", “emotive", “affective", “evaluative", “slang", some authors are inclined to treat them as synonyms, thinking, for instance, that an emotive word is of necessity also a stylistically coloured word, or considering all stylistically coloured words as emotional. We shall see that this is not always the case.
In what follows we shall understand by emotive speech any speech or utterance conveying or expressing emotion. This emotive quality of discourse is due to syntactical, intonational and lexical peculiarities. By lexical peculiarities we mean the presence of emotionally coloured words. The emotional colouring of the word may be permanent or occasional. We shall concentrate our attention on the first. A word acquires its emotional colouring, otherwise called its affective connotations, its power to evoke or directly express feelings as a result of its history in emotional contexts reflecting emotional situations. The character of denotata corresponding to the root of the word may be wrought with emotion. Thus, in the emotive phrases: be beastly mean about something, a glorious idea, a lovely drink, a rotten business, etc., the emotional quality is based upon associations brought about by such notions as ‘beast’, ‘glory’, ‘love’ and ‘rot’ and the objects they stand for.
The best studied type of emotional words are interjections. They express emotions without naming them: Ah! Alas! Bother! Boy! Fiddlesticks! Hear, hear! Heavens! Hell! Humbug! Nonsense! Pooh! etc. Some of them are primary interjections, others are derived from other parts of speech. On the latter opinions differ. Some say that Cornel and Hark! are not interjections at all, but complete sentences with their subject not expressed. We shall not go into this controversy and keep to our main theme.
A word may have some morphological features signalling its emotional force. These may be either morphemes or patterns. Diminutive and derogatory affixes, though not so numerous and variegated as in Russian, still play an important role. The examples are daddy, kiddykins, dearie, babykins, blackie, oldie. The scarcity of emotional suffixes favours the appearance of such combinations as: little chap, old chap, old fellow, poor devil where the emotional effect results from the interaction of elements. The derogatory group of suffixes may be exemplified by bastard, drunkard, dullard, trustard, princeling, weakling, gangster, hipster (now with a diminutive hippie), mobster, youngster. It must be noted that the suffix -ster is derogatory only with nouns denoting persons, and neutral otherwise, сf. roadster ‘an open automobile’.
There is a disparaging semi-affix -monger: panicmonger, scandalmonger, scaremonger, warmonger.
A very interesting problem, so far investigated but little, concerns the relationship between the morphological pattern of a word and its emotional possibilities. Thus, for example, personal nouns formed by composition from complete sentences or phrases are derogatory:
also-ran, never-do-well, sit-by-the-fire, stick-in-the-mud, die-hard. This goes only for names of persons. There is nothing objectionable in a forget-me-not. Compare also: I suppose your friends, if you have any, don’t mean much to you unless ... they are great-something-or-other (Fair-child).
There are several groups expressing censure by their morphological structure. There are personal nouns formed by conversion: a bore, a swell and by combined composition and conversion from verbs with post positives: a come-back ‘a person reinstated in his former position’, a stand-in ‘a substitute’, a stuck-up = an upstart ‘a person who assumes arrogant tone’ (also one who has risen from insignificance), a washout ‘a failure’.
To express emotion the utterance must be something not quite ordinary. Syntactically this is reflected in inversion contrasted to the usual word order. Its counterpart in vocabulary is coinage of nonce-words. Very often it is a kind of echo-conversion, as in the following: Lucas: Well? Hans: Don’t well me, you feeble old ninny (Osborne).
Emotional nonce-words are created in angry or jocular back-chat by transforming whole phrases into verbs to express irritation or mockery. For example: “Now well!” “Don’t now-well-me!” “How on earth!?” “Don’t begin how-on-earthing!” “Oh, bloody hell!я “You don’t bloody-hell here.”
The type is definitely on the increase in English speech of today.
Often the muscular feeling of the emotional word or phrase is more important than its denotational meaning. Its function is to release pent-up emotions, pent-up tension. This may explain why hell and heaven have such rich possibilities, while paradise has practically none.
It must be noted that emotional words only indicate the presence of emotion but very seldom are capable of specifying its exact character.
The emotionally coloured words are contrasted to the emotionally neutral ones. The words of this latter group express notions but do not say anything about the state of the speaker or his mood: copy, report, impatient, reach, say, well are all emotionally neutral. The difference between the sets is not very clear-cut, there are numerous boundary cases. The sets may be said to intersect and contain elements that belong to both, because many words are neutral in their direct meaning and emotional under special conditions of context. Having been used for some time with an occasionally emotional effect, they may acquire some permanent features in their semantic structure that justify referring them into the other subset.
It is also difficult to draw a line of demarcation between emotional and emphatic or intensifying words; therefore we shall consider the latter a specific group of the emotional words subset. Intensifiers convey special intensity to what is said, they indicate the special importance of the thing expressed. The simplest and most often used of these are such words as ever, even, all, so. The first of them, due to its incessant use, has become a kind of semi-affix, as seen from the solid spelling of such combinations as whatever, whenever, etc. If we compare:
Whyever didn’t you go? and Why didn’t you go? we shall see at once how much more expressive and emphatic the first variant is. There is also a big incessantly developing and changing group of intensifying adverbs: awfully, capitally, dreadfully, fiercely, frightfully, marvellously, terribly, tremendously, wonderfully and very many others. The fashion for them changes, so that every generation has its favourite intensifiers and feels those used by their elders trite and inexpressive. The denotative meaning of intensifying adverbs may be almost completely suppressed by their emphatic function, so that in spite of the contradiction of combinations like awfully glad, frightfully beautiful or terribly important, they are very frequent. E.g.: How are you, Helene? You're looking frightfully well (Amis).
Very little is known so far about limitations imposed upon the combining possibilities of intensifiers. It is, for instance, quite usual to say stark naked or stark mad, where stark means ‘wholly’, but not *stark deaf; we say stone deaf instead. The fact is very little studied from the synchronic point of view. Compare also the fixed character of such combinations as flat denial, sheer nonsense, paramount importance, dead tired, bored stiff. All such purely linguistic constraints concerning the valency of words are of great theoretical interest.
Sometimes it is very difficult to tell an intensifier from an emotionally coloured word, because in many cases both functions are fulfilled by one and the same word, as in the following example: “You think I know damn nothing,” he said indignantly. “Actually I know damn all (Priestley).
An intensifying function may be also given to sound-imitative interjections, as in the following: I was an athlete, you see, one of those strong-as-a-horse boys. And never a day’s illness — until bang, comes a coronary, or whoosh, go the kidneys! (Huxley)
A third group which together with emotional and intensifying words could be opposed to the neutral vocabulary may be called evaluatory words. Words which, when used in a sentence, pass a value judgment differ from other emotional words in that they can not only indicate the presence of emotion but specify it.
In evaluatory words the denotative meaning is not superseded by the evaluative component, on the contrary they co-exist and support each other. For example: Oh, you're not a spy. Germans are spies. British are agents (Rattigan). A few more examples will not be amiss. The verb fabricate has not lost its original neutral meaning of ‘manufacture’, but added to it the meaning of ‘invent falsely’. When using this word, the speaker is not indifferent to the fact but expresses his scorn, irony or disgust. Scheming is a derogatory word (cf. planning), it means ‘planning secretly, by intrigue or for private ends’. For example: “I wouldn’t exaggerate that, Mildred,” said Felix. “You're such a schemer yourself, you're a bit too ready to attribute schemes to other people” “Well, somebody’s got to do some scheming,” said Mildred. “Or let’s call it planning, shall we? As you won’t raise a finger to help yourself, dear boy, I have to try to help you. And then I am accused of scheming.” (Murdoch)
When the emotional variant of the word or a separate emotional word is contrasted to its neutral variant the emotional word always turns out to be morphologically or semantically derived, not primary.
The names of animals, for instance, when used metaphorically, almost invariably have a strong evaluative force: “Silly ass,” said Dick. “He’s jealous because he didn’t win a prise.” (M. Dickens) Compare also colt ‘a young male horse up to an age of four or five’, which occurs in the figurative meaning of ‘a young inexperienced person’. The same type of relationship is seen in the figurative meaning of the word pup as a contemptuous term for a conceited young man.
Emotional, emphatic and evaluative words should not be confused with words possessing some definite stylistic features although in actual discourse these properties may coincide, and we often come across words both emotionally and stylistically coloured. Style is, however, a different kind of opposition; it will be discussed in the next chapter. The distinction we are dealing with in the present paragraph is helpful, because it permits us to observe some peculiar phenomena and features of words in emotional speech.
The emotive effect is also attained by an interaction of syntactic and lexical means. The pattern a+(A)1+N1+of+a+N2 is often used to express emotion and emphasis. The precise character of the emotion is revealed by the meaning and connotations possible for N1 and N2, the denotata may be repulsive or pleasant, or give some image. Compare, for example: a devil of a time, a deuce of a price, a hell of a success, a peach of a car, an absolute jewel of a report, a mere button of a nose. The word button in the last example acquires expressiveness and becomes ironical, being used metaphorically, although used in its direct meaning it is emotionally neutral; it acquires its emotional colour only when transferred to a different sphere of notions. The adjectives absolute and mere serve as intensifiers.
Emotional words may be inserted into a syntactic chain without any formal or logical connection with what precedes or follows but influencing the whole and making it more forcible, as, for example, in the following: “There was a rumour in the office,” Wilson said, “about some diamonds.” “Diamonds my eye,” Father Rank said. “They’ll never find any diamonds.” (Greene) It would be wrong to consider this use of my eye a figurative meaning, its relationship with the direct denotational meaning being different from what we observe in metaphorical or metonymical meanings. In this and similar cases the emotional component of meaning expressing in a very general way the speaker’s feelings and his state of mind dominates over the denotational meaning: the latter is suppressed and has a tendency towards fading out.
Emotional words may even contradict the meaning of the words they formally modify, as, for example, in the following: Everything was too bloody friendly, Damn good stuff this. The emotional words in these two examples were considered unprintable in the 19th century and dashes were used to indicate the corresponding omissions in oaths:
1The brackets show that this position is optional.
D--n. The word has kept its emotional colouring, but its stylistic status has improved.
Words expressing similar emotions may belong to different styles and the vulgar Damn\ that can be at best qualified as familiar colloquial can be compared with the lofty and poetical Alas! Each of them in its own way expresses vexation, so that their emotional colouring, though not identical, is similar; stylistically they are very different. The criteria by which words can be referred to the set in question are being at present investigated. A difficult problem is presented by words naming emotions: love, hate, fear, fright, rage, etc. or associated with emotions: dead, death, dirt, mean and the like. Some authors argue that they cannot be considered emotional, because emotion plays the part of denotatum, of something that is named, not expressed. Subsequent authors have shown that if the question is considered in purely linguistic terms of word-building and contextual ties, it may be proved that some of these words can express feeling.
Words belonging (on a synchronic level) to word-families containing interjections can be proved to possess the following properties: they can express emotions, they can lend emotional colouring to the whole sentence in which they occur, they occupy an optional position. Thus, the whole cluster of derivatives with rot are regularly emotional: rot, rotten, to rot, rotter. Emotionality is indubitable in the following: Oh, get out! You don’t really care, damn you! You asked her to marry you in your rotten cold-blooded way, but I loved her (Christie).
Different positive emotions are rendered by love and its derivatives lovely a and lovely n (the latter is a synonym for darling).
In concluding the paragraph it is necessary to stress once more that as a rule emotional and emphatic words do not render emotions by themselves but impart these to the whole utterance in co-ordination with syntactic and intonation means. Only context permits one to judge whether the word serves as a mere intensifier or expresses emotion, and if so, to particularise the type of emotion.
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