From Cognitive Linguistics to Historical Sociolinguistics
The evolution of Old English expressions of shame and guilt
This paper focuses on the analysis of the different motifs that shape the linguistic expression of shame and guilt in Old English. Through the fine-grained analysis of the whole set of shame and guilt expressions recorded in a corpus of Old English texts, a network of literal and figurative conceptualizations for each emotion is proposed. On the basis of these expressions, I argue here that body-related expressions (either metonymic or metaphoric) occupy a very secondary role in the Anglo-Saxon imagery of shame and guilt. In clear contrast with this view of shame and guilt as instruments of social control, the Christianization of England implied the spread of new shame-related values and the growing use of a new set of embodied conceptualizations for the two emotions under scrutiny here, most of which have become common figurative expressions of shame and guilt in later varieties of English. The new expressions (e.g. SHAME IS REDNESS IN THE FACE and SHAME IS SOMETHING COVERING A PERSON) illustrate the shift towards a progressive embodiment of the new emotional standards brought by Christianization. According to these standards, rather than an external judgment or reproach, shame and guilt involve a negative evaluation of oneself. Furthermore, I argue here that these onomasiological changes are informing us on the lexical choices of Old English speakers and on the sociolinguistic factors that conditioned the development of new emotional styles (i.e., the different ways feelings were expressed and, surely, felt) in Anglo-Saxon England.
Keywords: emotions, Old English, conceptual variation, shame culture, metaphor, metonymy, guilt culture
Published online: 05 August 2014
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