What Language Does to Feelings

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This paper distinguishes various ways in which language can act on our affect or emotion experience. From the commonsensical consideration that sometimes we use language merely to report or describe our feelings, I move on to discuss how language can constitute, clarify, and enhance them, as well as induce novel and often surprising experiences. I also consider the social impact of putting feelings into words, including the reciprocal influences between emotion experience and the public dissemination of emotion labels and descriptions, and how these influences depend on the power of labelling to make complex feelings visible and thus easily accessible. Finally, I address and reinterpret some psychological findings on the so-called 'verbal overshadowing' effect.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Sociology and Philosophy Department, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4RJ

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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