Syntax and Semantics of Polish and English Expressions of Emotions: A Corpus Study

Katarzyna Dziwirek, University of Washington and Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, University of Łodź

The paper presents analyses of several constructions expressing emotions in Polish and English. Our data comes from the British National Corpus and PELCRA (Polish and English Language Corpora for Research and Applications), which includes the Polish National Corpus. The corpora reveal a number of striking hitherto unnoticed patterns and generalizations.

There are three components to the paper:

1) Frequencies and Parts of Speech: The corpus data support Wierzbicka’s (1995) observation that Slavic languages tend to express ‘feeling’ emotions with intransitive, often reflexive, verbs, while English uses far more copular constructions with adjectives and participles. The contrast is quite striking in some domains, e.g., English appears to have no verbs ‘to feel disgust(ed)’. Yet, English has a larger overall number of transitive verbs (meaning ‘causing’ the emotion), which is in part responsible for the larger number of participles. In both languages the ‘fear’ domain has the largest number of transitive (‘causing’) verbs, the ‘joy/gladness’ domain, the smallest.

2) Syntax: Here we focus on complex sentences with emotion verbs as main predicates. For intransitive verbs, only those in the domain of fear (e.g. bać się), worry (e.g. martwić się), gladness (e.g. cieszyć się) and, marginally, anger (e.g. złościć się) allow że ‘that’ clauses as complements. In English the range of such construction is more limited. Examination of transitive emotion verbs reveals interesting semantic and syntactic generalizations. In most semantic fields transitive verbs mean ‘to cause the emotion’ (rozzłościć ‘to anger sb’, zmartwić ‘to sadden/depress sb’, etc.,), but not so in the ‘like/love’ and ‘dislike/hate’ fields, where transitive verbs, like the intransitive ones, mean ‘to feel the emotion’. Here, there are no pairs like rozzłościć ‘to make angry’ and rozzłościć się ‘to get angry’. Rather, kochać się ‘to be in love’ and kochać ‘to love’ both represent the experience (and not the cause) of the emotion. These fields are also the only ones where we find infinitival (subject control) complements in both languages, though much more frequently in English. English also allows for-to infinitive complements (I hate for him to X), absent in Polish.

3) Semantics: Besides semantic generalizations mentioned above, our study of Polish emotion nouns reveals a profound insight into how Polish speakers conceptualize emotions, which appear to be divided into two almost mutually exclusive sets. Some are seen as present inside individuals and thus part of human nature (albeit possibly in a dormant state), while others are perceived as external. You can awaken (wzbudzić/obudzić) or call forth (wywołać) the former, and fall into (wpaść w) the latter. We also discuss emotions ‘in need of nourishment’: a person can ‘feed’ certain emotions (żywić) in Polish, and foster similar ones in English. Our analysis of these patterns offers insights into Polish and English cultural values and national psyches.