Publication details [#2068]

Bamberg, Michael. 2005. The role of language in the construction of emotions.
Publication type
Unpublished manuscript
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Palmerston North, New Zealand


If language is conceived of as merely representing (in the sense of 'mirroring') the world of emotions and/or people's conceptualizations and understandings of the emotions, language offers an immediate access. Language, in this view, is "transparent". If language, however, is conceived of in one or another way as contributing to how emotions are understood, or even, to what emotions "are", the relationship is not direct, but mediated. It is this second orientation that I will take as a starting point for this paper. First, I will, in an admittedly rather eclectic fashion, discuss three approaches that revolve around language issues as a starting point to explore emotions (Section 1). I selected these three different approaches for two reasons: First, they start from quite different assumptions of what language is, how it functions, and in addition, with regard to its transparency. Examining the assumptions that lie behind the individual approaches will help reveal some of the background that led to my own "linguistic-constructionist" approach. Second, although I am somewhat critical of all three theoretical frameworks discussed, they have been (and still are) the most appealing to me, in as far as they were most influential in my own thinking after my interest in the relationship between emotions and language had been spurred by two of my mentors, George Lakoff and Dick Lazarus, during my graduate training in Berkeley. After having taken critical account of the three approaches, particularly with their underlying assumptions regarding the role of language and the approach to development invoked, I will turn in Section 2 to a summary of some of my own findings. These originated from a project that was funded by The Spencer Foundation, having led me to see the need to continue this line of research with a stronger emphasis on cross- cultural comparisons. In the last section of this paper (Section 3) I will turn to some more methodological and theoretical considerations with regard to the relationship of language and emotions, opening up the central issue of the role of language in the appropriation of the emotions and in their development. (Michael Bamberg)