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Review of  Emotion in Dialogic Interaction

Reviewer: Kerstin Fischer
Book Title: Emotion in Dialogic Interaction
Book Author: Edda Weigand
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Book Announcement: 16.924

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Date: Thu, 24 Mar 2005 19:09:27 +0100 (MET)
From: Kerstin Fischer <>
Subject: Emotion in Dialogic Interaction: Advances in the Complex

EDITOR: Edda Weigand
TITLE: Emotion in Dialogic Interaction
SUBTITLE: Advances in the Complex
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 248
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia
YEAR: 2004

Kerstin Fischer, University of Bremen

The volume "Emotion in Dialogic Interaction - Advances in the Complex" is
a selection of studies presented at a workshop in Muenster in 2002 with the
same title. It comprises 15 papers of varying length (between 9 and 42
pages) plus a foreword, a list of contributors, and an index.


In her foreword, the editor, Edda Weigand, introduces the main focus of the
volume: the idea that emotion needs to be studied as an integrative
component of human behaviour. A major issue is therefore the culture
dependence of emotion which is taken up in many papers. The foreword
furthermore outlines the organisation of the volume in three parts:
Addressing the Complex, which comprises theoretical perspectives on the
study of emotion, Communicative Means for Expressing Emotion, in which
mainly different lexical items are being investigated, and thirdly, Emotional
Principles in Dialogue, which concentrates on cognitive and cultural aspects
of the use of emotions.

Part I: Addressing the Complex

In her contribution (Emotions: The Simple and the Complex), Edda Weigand
sets the stage for the investigation of emotion as a complex phenomenon.
She begins by arguing against a reductive analysis of emotion by means of
semantic primitives, drawing on findings on the mirror neuron, for instance,
to show that even the smallest units are complex, such that "there is no
simple at the beginning" (p. 5). Similarly, she rejects a metaphor analysis of
emotion terms because it focuses only on a single aspect of emotion in
dialogic interaction and isolates a "special compartment of a complex
whole" (p. 6). A more appropriate approach to emotion, in her view, is to
study competence-in-performance, which manifests in principles of
probability, by investigating the human beings' interests, needs,
expectations which are influenced and shaped by their social and cultural
surroundings (p. 6-7). She coins this analytical framework a dialogic action
game. Accordingly, her focus is on how emotions are expressed in
language use (p. 11), and as a methodology she proposes the comparison
of different languages, which allows the identification of the particular
conventions of each language. Besides accounting for explicit means for
referring to emotions, such as declaring, stating and emphasising, she
requires her theory to be able to deal with emotion as an accompanying
feature (p. 17), which involves uncertainty, negotiation, order and disorder.
Edda Weigand then proceeds by analysing a sentence on a publicly available
sign that states a quite private affair. Including typographical, linguistic,
contextual, and cultural factors, she provides an example of an integrative
account as a dialogic action game. Her approach serves as a framework for
many other papers in the volume.

Frantisek Danes (Universality versus Culture-specificity of Emotion)
discusses the relationship between universality and culture-specificity of
emotion by discussing cognitive aspects of emotion, spontaneous versus
strategic display of emotion, different triggers (events, states, actions),
primary versus secondary emotions, and the necessity of having a label in
order to be able to experience emotions. Moreover, he argues that a
cultural analysis always means an analysis of a culture's subcultures (p. 29-

Svetla Cmejrkova (Emotions in Language and Communication) also focuses
on accompanying, paralinguistic, aspects of the communication of emotion,
using a political debate to carry out a stylistic analysis that a) accounts for
linguistic and paralinguistic features, b) effects on addressees and
overhearers, c) norms, and d) genre.

Carla Bazzanella (Emotions, Language, and Context) addresses the problem
of the relationship between the individual, interactional, and cultural
aspects of emotion by using a model of context: she distinguishes global
context, which comprises the external, a priori features of context and
features like status or social roles, from local context, which is activated and
constructed interactionally in the course of the interaction. These two types
of context are proposed to correspond to moral, secondary, and natural,
individual, primary emotions respectively. Bazzanella furthermore assumes
a compositional approach to emotions that includes physiological, phonetic
and prosodic variation, facial expression and behavioural variations (p. 56-
57). These aspects interplay based on the variability of aspects of the local
and global context.

John E. Joseph (Body, Passions and Race in Classical Theories of Language
and Emotion), using a dialogue from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
as a starting point for an insightful and highly readable philosophical
inquiry, investigates the relationship between the body, passions, language,
and race in several philosophical texts, in particular, Aristotle, Epicurus,
Descartes, Locke, Renan, and Herder, and furthermore contextualises it in
the Christian thinking of Shakespeare's audience. The questions raised,
such as how do emotions arise and how do they enter language, how do
humans and animals differ, how do different human races differ from each
other, are faithfully investigated in the texts under consideration and gently
disentangled, leaving us with a clear overview of the development of
different positions on the relationships involved. Finally, the author outlines
directions for future research focussing on possible relationships of the
questions addressed to metaphor, identity and language death.

Part II: Communicative Means for Expressing Emotion

Karin Aijmer (Interjections in a Contrastive Perspective) discusses the
interactional and emotional functions of interjections by analysing
translations from English into Swedish. Corresponding to the
communicative functions of interjections, Karin Aijmer finds English 'ah'
and 'oh' to be rendered in the target language as interjections, reaction
(feedback) signals, expletives, conjunctions, adverbs or not at all.
Nevertheless, she proposes an emotional core meaning for these words
(surprise) and explains their communicative functions as due to their
indexicality, which is also taken to account for their strategic employment.

Wolfgang Teubert (When Did we Start Feeling Guilty?) provides a historical
analysis of guilt, shame, and Schuldgefühl. The theoretical question behind
his corpus analysis is whether we need to have a label in order to
experience a particular emotion. The corpora he investigates are the Bank
of English as well as the works of Shakespeare, Milton, and other literary
authors. Drawing on discussions in philosophy, psychology and cultural
anthropology, he looks at the relationship between social constructedness
and experiential categories. While the corpus analysis indicates that the
feeling of guilt is a relatively recent concept, his conclusion is that the
experience of emotions and their social construction are inseparable.

Valerij Dem'jankow, Andrej Sergeev, Dash Sergeeva, and Leonid Voronin
(Joy, Astonishment and Fear in English, German and Russian: A Corpus-
based Contrastive-semantic Analysis), in an attempt to "study lexical items
not just in dictionaries but in use" (p. 163), compare emotion terms
corresponding to astonishment in E.T.A. Hoffmann and Gogol, as well as
terms corresponding to joy in Dickens and Dostoevsky, an approach that
they label 'linguistic psychology'. Their first finding, which they use to
postulate 'hypothetic euroversals' (p.167), concerns differences in the
clustering of emotion terms by Hoffmann and Gogol, such that Hoffmann
combines terms of astonishment with other emotion terms, while Gogol
does not, and differences in the presentation of emotions, for instance,
event -> emotion -> reaction (p. 168). The findings are related to the two
authors' different styles: romantic mystification versus irony (p. 172).
Similarly, the authors identify different uses of emotion terms related to joy
in Dickens and Dostoevsky.

Maxim I. Stamenov (Ambivalence as a Dialogic Frame of Emotions in
Conflict) investigates ambivalent emotions. Since emotions directly signal
their experiencer which action to take, ambivalent emotions, such as
German Hassliebe (hate-love), constitute a problem, also with respect to the
experiencer's identity. Here Freud's model of the psyche with its three parts,
id, ego, super-ego, can explain the experiencer's ambivalence as "a regular
way of processing certain types of subjectively significant information in a
potentially dissociative way" (p. 186). After these theoretical considerations,
Stamenow applies his findings to the analysis of Turkish loan words in
Bulgarian which, contrary to their Bulgarian synonyms, often carry negative
or ambivalent emotive-affective connotations.

Part III: Emotional Principles in Dialogue

Michael R. Walrod (The Role of Emotions in Normative Discourse and
Persuasion) presents an analysis of the expression of emotion with respect
to the fixed text structure in an instance of a particular kind of normative
discourse: dispute regulation in Ga'dang. With respect to the different parts
of the macro structure of the discourse, emotional content and normative
evaluations are expressed differently, and different lexical choices are
being made. Thus, the study illustrates the culture- and context-
dependence of emotional expression.

Jörn Bollow (Anticipation of Public Emotion in TV Debates) provides a
detailed analysis of a TV debate between two German politicians (Schroeder
and Stoiber) into which he introduces an interesting tertium comparationis:
TV opinion polls elicited before and right after the TV debate, so that in this
analysis the suspected emotional features can be indirectly related to the
audience's judgements of credibility, sympathy, and competence. The main
findings concern the politicians' strategies in dealing with emotions. Bollow
succeeds in disentangling different expectations and constraints on
emotional expression for politicians.

Elda Weizman (Interpreting Emotions in Literary Dialogue) addresses the
multiple layers of emotional interpretation in literary texts, provides an
analysis of the first pages of Amos Oz: my Michael. First, Weizman
establishes an investigation of the emotions named, the co-textual gaps
and culture-dependent connotations, proceeding in a step-by-step
example-based analysis. In a second step, Weizman provides a further,
convincing analysis of the text, this time focussing on the narrator's
justifications for her emotions, her matter-of-fact style in which she
presents aspects of her story, and her explication of historical
circumstances - all of which contributes to an interpretation of distance to
the emotions talked about. Weizman then interprets this distance as a sign
of insincerity of the narrator (p. 250), a sign that she has lost her ability to
feel love (p. 252) (an interpretation I personally could not follow on the
basis of the analysis presented).

Tamar Sovran (The Author-Reader-Text Emotional Bond in the Literary
Action Game) uses the same text as Elda Weizman to argue for three
components of the 'literary action game': a universally shared emotional
basis which is taken to make readers universally react to the text
with 'involvement, sympathy and sadness' (p. 259) (which is in fact in sharp
contrast to a judgement from a reader quoted at the end of Weizman's
paper), particular and indexical factors, such as cultural knowledge, and
knowledge about the person of the author, Amos Oz. All three factors are
taken to increase 'the emotional impact beyond the limits of the text' (p.

Christian Plantin (On the Inseparability of Emotion and Reason in
Argumentation) addresses methodological questions in emotional analyses
of text. His proposal, 'a model of the semantico-textual counterpart of the
cognitive component of emotion' (p. 268), comprises four aspects: the
asserting of emotion, the backwards derivation of emotion from the
description of a physiological emotional state or a typical action, the
description of possibly emotional events, and situational constraints. The
latter he illustrates by means of a 'letter to the editor' on a political issue. He
argues that the emotions of this letter are grounded in cognition, that is, 'in
the cognitive framing of the situation itself', and that therefore emotion and
reason cannot be separated.


The main point of the volume is the complexity of emotion in interaction. In
this context, Wierzbicka's approach is criticised as being reductionistic, and
furthermore, Frantisek Danes argues that Wierzbicka "takes for granted that
English words such as 'say, want, good, bad' express universally valid
concepts" (p. 31), which is certainly the least appropriate criticism of
Wierzbicka's life work, which has been devoted to the identification and
justification of the primitives she employs throughout. Nevertheless, it is
certainly right that emotion is indeed highly dependent on contextual and
interactional aspects and is construed interactively and online. Wierzbicka's
work, however, be it as it may, has an advantage that has largely been
ignored by the authors of the current volume: it is based on a solid, well-
specified methodology.

How do we know of a passage that it is emotional? For some words
denoting emotions, such as sadness or joy, it may be unproblematic to
argue that they have to do with emotionality, yet Teubert's analysis nicely
illustrates how difficult it can be to determine for a word like 'shame'
whether it refers to an emotion or not, not to mention the problems of
determining concurrent, accompanying emotionality. One needs a tertium
comparationis, some method to argue that an expression is emotional
other than appealing to plausibility. These central methodological issues
are hardly addressed in this volume (with Plantin as the only real exception)
and it seems to me that, although it is certainly necessary to 'address the
complex', the importance of methodological tools to investigate this
complexity must not be underestimated.

The data investigated are furthermore not what I had expected, regarding
the title of the book. The data analysed are mostly written data, usually even
non-authentic, literary examples (which is certainly justified for some types
of research questions, such as Teubert's), and if spoken, then they are
extremely monological, such as long statements by politicians in interviews.
And if in a few cases interactional data are discussed, then the analysis does
not rest on interactional methodology. Accordingly, with one exception
(Bollow), works by authors who previously have investigated emotion in
interaction, for instance, Kehrein (2002), Goodwin & Goodwin (2000),
Selting (1994), Fiehler (1990), are not referred to in the volume.

Also the composition of the volume is not ideal. With Carla Bazzanella as a
notable exception, the authors of the volume hardly, and usually not at all,
refer to each others' work, although in some cases data and objectives are
identical. There are numerous typos, grammatical errors, and many
examples have not been translated.

To conclude, while some papers provide interesting ideas and starting
points, for instance, Weigand's, Bazzanella's, Joseph's and Stamenow's
theoretical frameworks, other papers rather do not. Thus, although the
theoretical framework opened up by Weigand and explicitly referred to by
many authors promises an interesting, integrative perspective on emotion
in interaction, the application of this approach is often not convincing
because of a lack of methodology.


Fiehler, Reinhard (1990): Kommunikation und Emotion. Theoretische und
empirische Untersuchungen zur Rolle von Emotionen in der verbalen
Interaktion. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter.

Goodwin M. H. & Goodwin C. (2000): Emotion within situated activity. In:
Duranti, A. (ed.): Linguistic Anthropology. A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.

Roland Kehrein (2002): Prosodie und Emotionen. Tübingen: Niemeyer
(Reihe Germanistische Linguistik 231).

Selting, Margret (1994): Emphatic speech style - with special focus on the
prosodic signalling of heightened emotive involvement in conversation.
Journal of Pragmatics 22: 375-408.


Kerstin Fischer is assistant professor at the University of Bremen. She works
on methodological issues in the identification of contextual effects in
language, which includes aspects of the speaker, such as her emotional
state, as well as of the addressee (in the form of recipient design), and
aspects of common ground. Her research areas include human-
computer/human-robot interaction, processes of contextualisation,
grounding and the evoking of common ground, as well as the
representation of situational knowledge in construction grammar.