Soft hearts and hard souls
The multiple textures of Old English feelings and emotions
One of the most fundamental claims of the Cognitive Theory of Metaphor is the direction of mapping from concrete to abstract. The pervasiveness of this path of semantic change has been widely accepted among researchers interested in the study of the history and development of emotional expressions. Whereas most studies focus on the analysis of one specific target domain (i.e., one emotion or one family of emotions), less attention has been paid to the reconstruction and analysis of the set of diachronic changes that affected one single source domain. Within this framework, in this paper I have used data extracted from standard Old English dictionaries and thesauri, in order to propose a complete analysis of the set of Old English adjectives for different textural properties of physical objects (such as roughness, smoothness, softness and hardness). I am especially interested in the reconstruction and analysis of the paths of semantic change (from concrete to abstract) illustrated by this section of the Old English vocabulary. Broadly speaking, apart from the original senses for physical texture, these adjectives developed secondary meanings in the fields of feelings and emotions, which I have classified into three categories: physical sensations (such as weakness and pleasantness), sensorial sensations (such as auditive, visual or gustative sensations) and emotional sensations (such as grief, anger, compassion and empathy). Furthermore, the resulting figurative meanings (which I have analysed in terms of metonymic, synaesthetic and metaphoric extensions) can also be grouped into positive and negative sensations. The present paper supports the idea that the origin of our understanding of abstract concepts is deeply rooted in our physical experiences. This is indeed a conceptual pattern showed by the diachronic evolution of Old English adjectives for texture. This paper concludes with some remarks on the social and cultural changes that prompted some of these semantic changes, paying special attention to the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England and the introduction of Christian values.
Keywords: sensuous cognition, sense of touch, Old English, semantic extension, figurative language, emotional expressions
- 2.The vocabulary of texture: Classification and analysis
- 2.1Old English rough-adjectives
- 2.2Old English smooth-adjectives
- 2.3Old English hard-adjectives
- 2.4Old English soft-adjectives
- 3.Discussion of my results
- 4.Concluding remarks
Dictionaries and corpora
Published online: 30 May 2022
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