Tom Kindt

Norbert Fries

Encoding Emotions in Texts. Part 2: The Specification of Emotional Meaning in Texts


Full-length article in: JLT 3/1 (2009), 19-71.

This study explicates emotions as specific meanings that are encoded by means of signs. Thus, emotions are the semiotically structured counterparts of inner feelings that can be perceived by means of introspection. In semantic terms, emotions can be treated as predications: they assign to the person that experiences a feeling the property of having particular subjective psychological experiences and employing particular forms of motor behaviour in certain situational conditions. The basic concepts needed for a semiotic, in particular linguistic and literary explication were set out in detail in the first part of the study. An experiencer is the semantic argument in a predication to which the psychological experience characterized by that predication is assigned. A stimulus is the semantic argument in a predication that is assigned by that predication the property of being the trigger or subject matter of the psychological experience in question. The descriptive concept of emotional attitudes is employed to explicate generalizable properties of clusters of subjective psychological experiences and motor behaviour. The concept of emotional scenes is used to provide a systematic representation of clustered situational conditions.

After a brief overview of these theoretical foundations (section 1), the present, second part of the study focuses on how emotional meanings are specified in texts. The meanings encoded lexically and by means of grammatical and textual structures in a language are treated as underspecified, which means that linguistically encoded meanings are semantically and conceptually formed and specified in stages on a series of descriptive levels that build on one another. This involves interpretation routines that require information about, for example, lexical features, the formation of grammatical structures, orthographic and phonetic (rhythmic, prosodic) forms, the structuring of texts and conversations, non-linguistic forms of expression (such as facial expression and gestures or the formatting of a text), and the contexts of statements and their reception.

This investigation is concerned primarily with the linguistic encoding of emotions, which is associated with the grammatical and transgrammatical descriptive levels. It provides a foundation for more far-reaching interpretations that employ the methods of literary and cultural studies in drawing on knowledge about cultural and historical factors and pre-texts. One of the main concerns of the article is therefore to consider the concept of underspecification and some of the factors that help to shape meanings (section 2). The focus of attention then shifts to the transgrammatical encoding and specification of emotional meanings (section 3). The possible ways of presenting linguistic signals and communicating information with them differ from one medium to the other: spoken language manifests itself as a continuum of sound that unfolds in time and is aurally perceived, whereas written language manifests itself in the form of discrete units that extend through space and are visually perceived. Many of the examples are drawn from Georg Büchner's Lenz, with attention being given to the circumstances of its production and reception; in an illustration of how an analysis can proceed, it is shown what the most important emotions in Lenz are and what narrative means are used to encode them. On the one hand, the emotions encoded by Büchner distinguish the text from the comments in Oberlin's diary, one of his historical sources. On the other hand, the techniques used to structure the text in this way mean that Lenz is comparable with modern transcriptions of exchanges between doctors and patients.


JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

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How to cite this item:

Abstract of: Norbert Fries, Die Kodierung von Emotionen in Texten. Teil 2: Die Spezifizierung emotionaler Bedeutungen in Texten.

In: JLTonline (23.12.2009)


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