Emotions are relational: positioning and the use of affective linguistic resources

This is the dissertation I did at Stanford. 

Download it: https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:fm335ct1355/Dissertation_Schnoebelen_final_8-29-12-augmented.pdf

See the library record: https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/9697554


To understand human beings is to understand the variety and complexity of emotional experiences they have. Understanding how language is both shaped by and used in creating and coping with these experiences is the focus of this dissertation. It offers three case studies about affective linguistic resources, advancing a theoretical framework (positioning) and a series of quantitative methodologies that grow out of information-theoretic approaches to language.

The first case study shows how many different linguistic resources have prominent affective aspects by examining a single emotional relationship conversation between two friends, showing how we might confidently make claims that one section of conversation is more emotionally intense than another and how we might get experimental data about connected discourse rather than being stuck in analyses of disconnected individual sentences.

The second case study focuses on the word little, which allows speakers to position themselves closer to their audiences and others through affectionate uses, allows them to hedge positions they aren’t prepared to give full illocutionary force to, and which can also be used to demean and be- little. I show the factors important to determining little’s meaning through three experiments and analysis of seven conversational corpora. I look at the socio-pragmatics of its use, focusing especially on power and gender.

In the third case study I show that emoticons occur in about 10% of posts on Twitter that are sent by people that are actually involved in real interactions (that is, they are sending messages and receiving messages back from at least four but no more than 100 other users). In addition to describing who uses which emoticons and how, I use the emoticons to describe the major dimensions of affective meaning in Twitter using hierarchical cluster analysis, factor analysis, and topic modeling. These dimensions—positivity/negativity, immediacy, teasing, and flirting— are all positional in nature.

People use language to position themselves, their audiences, and their topics relative to one another. Expressions of emotions are more than internal states made visible, they are actions that have particular interpersonal causes and consequences, which are understood linguistically (“I’m mad/happy/scared”) and which collective add up. This has important ramifications for any given interaction and at a more general level, these linguistic actions reveal and perturb the affective aspects of the cultural and cognitive systems they are part of.