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Negativity bias in language A cognitive-affective model of emotive intensifiers.

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Presentation on theme: "Negativity bias in language A cognitive-affective model of emotive intensifiers."— Presentation transcript:


2 Negativity bias in language A cognitive-affective model of emotive intensifiers

3 Basic assumptions Language is not an autonomous mental faculty independent of our general cognitive ability; Language is an integral part of cognition; a system of signs shared by a large group of people for the purpose of communication. Cognition and emotion are inseparable processes.

4 Methodology from mind to language Employing a cognitive-affective principle to explain a linguistic phenomenon

5 The psycho-semantics of three proverbs Lahu: If youve been stung by a bee, you fear even a flys coming. Yiddish: If youre scolded by the hot, you blow even on the cold. Chinese: One day bitten by a snake, for ten years you fear the well-rope. Matisoff (1979/2000)

6 The negativity bias Selective attention in information processing





11 The anger superiority effect Hansen & Hansen 1988 Öhman et al 2001

12 Process-based experiments ERPs: observations of attention allocation at neural level Time: within 100 ms Location: extrastriate area of visual cortex Amount of attention: P1 amplitude Smith et al. (2003, 2006)

13 defining negativity bias Evaluation bias: differential emphasis on negative stimuli Obligatory attention bias: automatic (default) attention allocation to negative stimuli Smith et al. (2003; 2006)

14 Negativity bias is pervasive Self-concept; Emotion; Impression formation; Learning; Memory; Information processing; Neurological processes; Reactions to social events; Close relationships; Social interactions in general; Child development; Social support; Media Baumeister et al. (2001)

15 Explanations of negativity bias Baumeister et al. (2001): NB as fitness enhancer Rozin and Royzman (2001): NB as contagion avoidance Pratto and John (1991): NB as automatic vigilance strategy

16 The role of emotion in selective attention Whats an emotion? a superordinate program that orchestrates all the subordinate programs of our mental processes and the related physical reactions. (Cosmides & Tooby 2000)

17 The power of survival pressures Threat related emotions activate fight-or-flight response Fear is a central component of the system of defensive behavior

18 When it comes to detecting and responding to danger, the brain just hasnt changed much. In some ways, we are emotional lizards. LeDoux (1998)

19 Threat-relevant negative emotions as motivation of NB Fear >>> >> flight Disgust >>> flight Anger >>> > fight

20 Negativity bias in language the case of emotive intensification


22 Whats the meaning of bloody here? * Lit. COVERED IN BLOOD HIGH ILLOCUTIONARY INTENSITY

23 What is bloody meant to do in discourse? Getting attention from hearer Enhancing expressiveness in speech (Establishing rapport)

24 si-le, die-ASP ! Renshi ta zhenshi mei si-le! To know her was wonderful to death! ! Huijia de ganjue hao si-le! The feeling of going home is good to death! (www. (

25 yao-si lit.will die,. Yudao lao pengyou, kaixin de yao-si. I ran into an old friend and was happy to death.

26 yaoming murderously, lit. demanding life, ! Mai lou shi dui women hao de yaoming, ke zhu jinlai chuchu shi xianjing! (

27 shuaidaile shockingly good-looking kudaile shockingly cool ! You look shockingly good in this outfit! shockingly good interior furnishing (

28 kubi(le) cool to death,. Ultra-techno-boot is cool to death, wearing it you can go on-line while walking. the newest cool-to-death styling (

29 schrecklich Das Essen muss heiß sein. Und wenn meine Latte nicht genug Milchschaum hat, bin ich persönlich beleidigt. Aber ansonsten bin eigentlich die meiste Zeit über schrecklich gut gelaunt. Vor kurzem fragte mich mein Freund, ob etwas nicht stimme. Ich sei so normal... (Teleschau, der Mediendienst)

30 stink- Ich bin stinksauer über Werb s! Der Film war stinklangweilig!

31 damn(ed) / darn(ed) It was a heady, exciting time in Washington. The days had the tang of high adventure, and the men around him found the President's enthusiasm contagious. He had learned how to take it and catch on quickly, explained Jack Kennedy, for two reasons: "Going through that campaign and being in the Senate." For the young President it was the best of times. "This," he said, "is a damned good job." (

32 sündhaft Sündhaft lecker, aber keines Wegs sündhaft teuer ist unser Torten- und Kuchensortiment. ( Sinfully delicious, but in no way sinfully expensive is our offer of cakes and pies.

33 Defining emotive intensifiers Nonliteral reading Subjectively evaluative, irrespective of truth-conditional degree Signalling high illocutionary force Enacting speakers attitude and emotion

34 Chinese -si-le sterben-ASP -kepa EXT furchterregend, -yaoming EXT das Leben auffordernd -yaosi EXT will-sterben -huai-le kaputt-ASP Vgl. Mordskerl

35 English damn(ed)/darn(ed) bloody awful(ly) sinfully terribly dreadfully horribly tremendously (stupendously) hell insanely

36 German verdammt sau- furchtbar schrecklich erschreckend tierisch irre wahnsinnig stink- sündhaft / sünd-

37 Degree words words describing measurement of degree (very, quite, pretty, etc.) Viable literal reading Non-emotive evaluation Accountable and informative

38 Emotive intensifiers versus Common degree words Nonliteral vs. literal Lower vs. higher accountability Higher vs. lower illocutionary force Performative/expressive vs. descriptive Attention-getter vs. evaluator Register bound vs. register-unbound

39 sehr very: Alle diejenigen, die nur wenig abspecken möchten und sich halbwegs gesund ernähren, können das mit Hilfe solcher Eiweißdrinks sehr gut erreichen. (

40 The diachrony of sehr very OHG n. sēr Schmerz cf. OE sār sore pain as conceptual source semantic bleaching: painfully >> very (a) frequent uses (b) obscurity of lexical origin

41 Diachronic continuum emotive intensifier >>> degree word

42 How to explain EI as the thrillers in our mental lexicon? What are the lexical sources of EI? What are the conceptual sources of EI?

43 Conceptual sources of emotive intensifiers 1. Concepts of negative emotions 2. Concepts of triggers of negative emotions 3. Concepts of impacts of negative emotions

44 Emotion concepts Fear: terror, horror, awe, dread… E.: terribly, horribly, awful(ly), dreadful(ly) G.:schrecklich, furchtbar, erschreckend C.: xiaren, kepa

45 Trigger/cause/impact of negative emotions Fear: blood, sin (Sünde), beast (Tier), hell (Hölle), insanity (Wahnsinn, Irrsinn), death (si,Tod), giant (Riese), strangeness (e.g. unheimlich) …… Disgust: stench, dirty pig Anger: damnation

46 Typological difference in Frequency-based prominence




50 Typological differences A.English and German: anger (damnation) as prominent source; B. Chinese: unavailability of anger (damnation/sin) as lexical source: gaisi deserving death; C. Chinese: death as prominent lexical source; D. German: trigger of disgust as source.

51 Cultural inferences Religion damnation as keywords of Judeo-Christian approach. Philosophy and worldview Confucian concern with THIS World > mortality as ultimate fear factor Cultural display rules unacceptability of anger (face)

52 Mapping emotion into language 1.Metonymic highlighting 2. Metaphorical mapping

53 Metonymic highlighting I EMOTION = EMOTIONAL INTENSITY fear (terror, dread,…) = intensity of fear

54 Metonymic highlighting III MEANING of a certain negative word = INTENSITY OF MEANING



57 The Pollyanna effect Boucher & Osgood (1969) Size of vocabulary Frequency of use Order of acquisition

58 A quote [H]umans tend to look on (and talk about) the bright side of life. Warum?

59 In search of an explanation of PE The optimism view The normality view

60 An alternative view The avoidance of threat as motivation of PE

61 The advantage of risk avoidance NB: biological heritage: adaptive behavior PE: cultural heritage: adaptive behavior

62 Level of observation-PE Language use: social semiotic

63 - symbolic interaction- PE, euphemism, and lang. of P.C. Brown & Levinson (1978) Goffman (1959, 1967, 1981)

64 Threatening Words Harmful (e.g. falling asleep > dying) Offensive (e.g. nett nice) Embarrassing (e.g. talents)

65 Wordrisks Which of us would call our new boat Titanic? D. Crystal (2006)

66 Change in popularity rank of Adolf as a given name

67 The truth of euphemism German: Nett ist die kleine Schwester von Scheiße. English: to damn with faint praise

68 The positivity bias is derivational the presupposition of negativity

69 Because of NB, PE facilitates linguistic intensification The shock-and-awe approach to attention in language

70 Summary Negativity bias as cognitive-affective pattern of information processing; Emotive intensification exhibits negativity biasthreat-relevant negative emotions as conceptual sources of EI; Mapping from emotional domain into language: metonymy and metaphor; Vigilance (towards threat/risk) motivates both Negativity bias and Pollyanna effect

71 Theoretical implications Strengths of a new research paradigm: Empirical plausibility; Discovering the embodiment of linguistic behaviornature-culture continuum; Seeing language in light of adaptive behavior and cultural priorities


73 Cognition and language as dynamical systems that cut across mind-body-world divisions rather than as the representations of the external world in the mind

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