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Elin HagströmEnglish Linguistics Course Code: EN3103
Supervisor: Ibolya Maricic Credits: 15
Examiner. Maria Estling Vannestål Date: 27 May, 2009
Emotion adjectives
A corpus study of the use of terrified, petrified and horrified
in British and American English
Elin Hagström
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Abstract
For many non-native speakers of English it can be difficult to distinguish semantic
differences between near-synonyms. In order to create idiomatically correct sentences in a
language it is important to know which word to use in a specific context. This study deals
with the emotion adjectives terrified, petrified and horrified, which all refer to an emotion
of fear of something that can or will happen. The present research aims at exploring the
meanings of these adjectives, in American English and British English, and to discover
which words these adjectives tend to collocate with. To obtain data a British Corpus and an
American corpus were used with fiction and newspaper as subcorpora. A quantitative
method was used where the frequencies of terrified, petrified and horrified were counted.
Secondly, the most frequent left- and right-hand collocates were studied. Due to the variety
of collocations found, it was discovered that the meanings between the adjectives differ
somewhat. The literal meaning of petrified is to be hard as a stone while the non-literal
meaning is to be extremely afraid. The literal meanings of terrified and horrified are to be
very afraid, but unlike terrified, horrified also seems to refer to being shocked. It can be
stated that in accordance with how vague the adjective is in its meaning the more
frequently it is used, i.e. terrified is the most frequent adjective in all subcorpora and in
both varieties of English most frequently used while petrified is least frequently used.
Keywords: British National Corpus, collocate(s), collocation(s), Corpus of Contemporary
American English, emotion adjectives, horrified, near-synonyms, petrified, terrified.
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2.2 Categorizing emotions and defining emotion concepts ........................................................... 3
2.3 The problematic distinction between literal meaning and non-literal meaning ....................... 5
3 Material and method ..................................................................................................................... 6
3.1 Material .................................................................................................................................... 6
3.2 Method ..................................................................................................................................... 8
4 Results ............................................................................................................................................ 9
4.1.1 Terrified .......................................................................................................................... 10
4.1.2 Petrified .......................................................................................................................... 11
4.1.3 Horrified ......................................................................................................................... 12
4.1.4 Comparisons of the frequencies of terrified, petrified and horrified .............................. 12
4.2 Collocations ........................................................................................................................... 13
4.2.1 Comparison of the collocations of terrified, petrified and horrified .............................. 23
4.3 Difference in meaning ........................................................................................................... 24
4.3.1 Terrified .......................................................................................................................... 25
4.3.2 Petrified .......................................................................................................................... 25
4.3.3 Horrified ......................................................................................................................... 25
5 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 26
1 Introduction
Learning ones native language is something that happens subconsciously. We often use
words without ever reflecting very much on their actual meaning. It is however
interesting to analyse words further and come to a better understanding of their
meanings since they also reflect how we perceive the world. The English language has
numerous words that seem to mean the same things. This paper focuses on three
adjectives that according to many speakers of English can be seen as representing
roughly the same emotion. They are often considered to be so called near-synonyms i.e.
their meanings are close but their contextual meanings differ somewhat (Cruse 2004:
156-157). Terrified, petrified and horrified are the adjectives that have been chosen for
this study since all of them denote an emotion of fear of something that will or can
happen. However, they are used in different contexts and for non-native English
speakers it can be problematic to understand the difference between these adjectives.
Before the differences and the similarities between terrified, petrified and
horrified can be established it is also important to define the concept of emotional
language. What then is an emotion? The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
(henceforth LDOCE) [www] defines emotion as “a strong human feeling such as love,
hate, or anger”. The biologist Charles Birch (Wierzbecka 1999:1) argues that emotions
are what matter most in life which is why it is fascinating to analyse emotional words.
A well-known scholar within the field of emotions is Robert Plutchik. He defines
emotions as “complex states of the organism involving feelings, behaviour, impulses,
physiological changes and efforts at control” (Plutchick (1991) in Wierzbecka 1999:1).
The present research is based on data from a British and an American corpus. The
British National corpus (henceforth BNC) and The American Corpus of Contemporary
English (henceforth COCA) were chosen, more precisely the newspapers and fiction
subcorpora. This means that only written examples of sentences with terrified, petrified
and horrified were studied.
1.1 Aim
The aim of this paper is to explore the meanings of the adjectives terrified, petrified and
horrified in British and American English. It also aims at discovering what words they
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tend to collocate with. In order to fulfil this aim, the following research questions are
addressed:
What are the relative frequencies of these adjectives in BrE and AmE?
With what kind of words do these adjectives collocate most often?
Do they tend to collocate with the same words in both varieties of English?
What differences in meaning, if any, are there between the emotion adjectives
terrified, petrified and horrified?
1.2 Scope
The scope of this study is limited to two subcorpora in the COCA and the BNC. The
left- and right-hand collocates of the node adjectives terrified, petrified and horrified
are studied. However, not all words occurring in the company of terrified, petrified and
horrified are studied but mainly nouns and intensifiers which are more important from a
semantic perspective. Nouns and intensifiers are more interesting to investigate than
conjunctions and determiners are since they add information and degree respectively to
the adjectives.
2.1 Words and emotion
Many psychologists and biologists prefer to talk about „emotions rather than „feelings
since they regard emotions as more objective in the sense that they have a biological
base. These scholars argue that it is only possible to scrutinize concepts that are real and
objective (Wierzbecka 1999:1). Linguists, on the other hand, usually prefer to talk about
affection rather than emotion. In standard linguistics, affect is used as a broad synonym
for feeling and includes moods and attitudes as well as interactional linguistic
phenomena such as hedging. In other words, affection is a general term for linguistically
expressed feelings, attitude and moods of all types (Caffi & Janney 1994:327-328). In
this study, however, the term emotion will be used in order to be as clear as possible and
avoid ambiguity. That this term was chosen instead of affect depends on the adjectives
that were chosen for this study. It seems more appropriate to use the term emotion for
terrified, petrified and horrified since they are short lived states rather than long lived
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states like moods, attitudes and dispositions. Since it seems more accurate to use the
term emotion for these adjectives this term is used in the following pages.
Now that the term emotion has been defined, it is interesting to discover how
emotional words such as e.g. love are defined. When one looks up love in the LDOCE
[www] this emotion is described as “a strong feeling of affection”. This is the case with
most emotional words; they are vaguely described by using the definition of another
emotion. This happens because the meaning of an emotional word is linked to the
description of a feeling. That is to say, in order to understand what love is, one must
understand what affection is and thus, one must understand the concept of love
(Wierzbecka 1999:2-5). Some concepts are universal which means that we know them
intuitively without anyone ever having explained them to us. One example of this sort
of concept is feel. A child picks up the meaning of feel in social interaction before he or
she learns to communicate. The concept of feel can therefore be used in order to explain
more complex concepts such as love or emotion (Wierzbecka 1999:2-5).
2.2 Categorizing emotions and defining emotion concepts
A great deal of work has been done in the recent decade in order to categorize emotions.
No real systematic account of emotions has yet emerged but Johnson-Laird and Oatley
(1989 in Ungerer and Schmid 1996:138-140) are two scholars within the subject of
human cognition who have tried to distinguish between essential emotion words and
more marginal emotion terms. They argue that speakers seem to think that some terms
are more basic than others. For instance love, anger and happiness are seen in English
as more basic emotion words than for example annoyance, rage and regret (Johnson-
Laird & Oatley in Ungerer & Schmid 1996:138-140).
Basicness refers to two things within the category of emotional terms. Firstly, it
means that the concept that corresponds to an emotional word belongs to the middle-
level in a vertical hierarchy of concepts. This means that e.g. „anger lies between the
superordinate level and the subordinate level. On the superordinate level emotion would
be placed and on the subordinate level we would put „annoyance (Kövecses 2000:2-4).
This discussion is made clearer in Figure 1 below:
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Figure 1. Levels of emotion terms (based on Kövecses 2000:3)
Secondly, basicness refers to how prototypical an emotion category is. That is, many
people regard „anger as a better example of an emotion than „annoyance.
Psychologists and philosophers have tried to find a limited number of basic emotions.
Johnson-Laird and Oatley have come to the conclusion that “certain emotion terms are
basic and unanalysable in the sense that they cannot be broken down into attributes or
other even more basic emotions” (Johnson-Laird & Oately in Ungerer & Schmid
1996:138). Basic emotion terms are often used to describe less basic emotions.
Johnson-Laird and Oatley describe five basic negative emotions: sadness, anger,
disgust/hate and fear. They also provide us with four positive basic emotions:
joy/happiness and desire/love. Double labels like disgust/hate signify that basic
emotions can be seen as short-lived states (disgust) or dispositions (hate).
Table 1. Basic emotion terms (Johnson-Laird & Oatley 1989 in Ungerer & Schmid
1996: 139)
Fear
Positive
emotions
What distinguishes these basic emotions from other emotions is mainly the fact that
they seem to be unanalysable and cannot be broken down into even more basic
emotions. These emotion terms also have simple linguistic forms and they are usually
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the first names of emotions that children learn (Johnson-Laird & Oatley in Ungerer &
Schmid 1996:138-140). Wierzbecka (1999:49) is also of the opinion that emotion
concepts have to be separated into different categories but she prefers another type of
categorization. She has chosen to divide emotions into six groups:
1) Something good happened joy, happiness
2) Something bad happened sadness, grief
3) Something bad can/will happen fear, anxiety
4) I dont want things like this to happen anger, indignation
5) Thinking about other people envy
6) Thinking about ourselves shame, remorse
Wierzbecka argues that all emotions can fit into any of these six groups. Since this
paper aims at explaining the differences between the less basic emotions terrified,
horrified and petrified the focus is on Wierzbeckas third category “something bad
can/will happen”.
It is worth noticing that Wierzbecka only mentions fear relating to the future.
According to her opinion we do not feel fear about things that have already happened in
the past. She argues that terrified, petrified and horrified are emotions related to fear of
something that is about to happen. These emotion words, however, are much stronger in
their meanings than e.g. „fear or „afraid are. A person who is terrified, petrified or
horrified is afraid that something „very bad is going to/can happen (Wierzbecka
1999:75-76).
2.3 The problematic distinction between literal meaning and non-literal meaning
When studying the meaning of words it is important to distinguish between literal and
non-literal meaning. Although this study focuses on emotion adjectives petrified is
included in the study since its non-literal meaning refers to a strong feeling of fear. Many
people probably argue that petrified rather refers to a state of being hard as a stone and
not an emotion. However, in this study both the literal and the non-literal meaning of
petrified are included.
Cruse (2004: 195-197) explains that people seem to think that literal meaning is the
first meaning of a word that springs to mind when reading or hearing a word. However,
people can have different views on what the literal meaning of a word is. Cruse himself
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argues that „expire to him carries the literal meaning „die whereas to his students
„expire carries the literal meaning „come to the end of a period of validity. In the same
way some people think that petrified carries the literal meaning „a feeling of fear while
others consider petrified as „being hard as a stone.
In dictionaries, the most frequent reading of a word is usually written first but this
might not always be the literal meaning. Cruse uses the verb „see as an example. For
most people the literal meaning of „see is to „have a visual experience but in contrast
„see is most frequently used as referring to „understand. It seems that Cruse (2004:195-
197) is of the opinion that there is no literal meaning or that literal meanings differ
greatly depending on person and age since meanings might change over time and also
because many expressions that originally were used as metaphors have changed in
meaning (Cruse 2004:195-197). „Expire probably meant „die to begin with but since it
has been used more and more frequently in sentences such as „my driving license has
expired the word has gradually acquired a different literal meaning, i.e. “come to the end
of a validity”. This is also the case with „crane which refers to both „a bird with very
long legs and „a tall machine used by builders for lifting heavy things (LDOCE [www];
Lundmark 2006:14). To tell which meaning is the literal one is not always easy. When
talking about emotions it is even more difficult to establish their literal meanings since
emotional concepts are likely to differ between individuals. Although this study focuses
on emotion adjectives both the literal meaning and the non literal meaning of petrified
are referred to in the following pages.
3 Material and method
3.1 Material
What is important in order to draw accurate conclusions regarding the meanings of
words is that the chosen corpora are large. Therefore, the primary data sources used in
this paper are the two huge corpora, the BNC and the COCA.
The BNC contains 100 million words of modern BrE. In order to provide a wide
collection of samples of written and spoken BrE it contains language from a great
variety of sources, starting from the later part of the 20th century. The written part of
the BNC includes, for example, extracts from newspapers, specialist periodicals,
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academic books and popular fiction, published and unpublished letters, school and
university essays, among many other kinds of text (BNC [www]).
The COCA contains approximately 385 million words derived from spoken
language, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers and academic texts. The corpus is
updated every six to nine months and serves as a great record of linguistic changes in
AmE (COCA [www]).
3.1.1 Corpora, concordance and collocations
Since this study is based on the analysis of corpora it is essential that the most important
aspects of corpus linguistics are made clear. First of all, it is important to know that a
corpus consists of a selection of texts naturally occurring in a language. These texts are
electronically stored in order to help us monitor and analyse language usage and the
contextual meanings of words. A corpus normally contains millions of words and it is
vital to have a large corpus in order to be able to analyze the structure of a language
accurately (Kennedy 1998: 3-4).
Furthermore, a concordance is a list of word strings retrieved from a corpus. The
concordance shows how often a particular word occurs and each word is still attached to
the original text it belongs to. KWIC (Key Word in Context) is the most widely used
concordance format. This format shows a line of text that can be used in order to
analyse that words most frequently occur before and after a particular key word or node
word (Kennedy 1998:247-251). The following text is an example of a concordance line
retrieved from the BNC:
(1) easy for people to misunderstand religious language and ritual. There
is a very strong tendency to take literally what needs imaginative
interpretation. All the great religions affirm that at
Finally, some words have a tendency to occur in the company of other words. For
instance, the word strong often occurs in the company of tendency, as demonstrated in
the concordance line above (Kennedy 1998:108). It is crucial to have knowledge of
collocations in order to create a correct sentence in a language.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to draw a line between what constitutes a collocation
and what does not. For instance, it is debatable how many times a word must occur in
the company of another word in order for these words to be accepted as collocates
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(Kennedy 1998:111). It is also debatable whether determiners, conjunctions and
prepositions should be accepted as collocations. The frequency of “a/an terrified” and
“some terrified” is very common but these sets of words are not normally considered to
be collocations.
3.2 Method
In order to answer the research questions a quantitative method was chosen. When
doing corpus studies this is the most common approach since it involves analyses of
how frequent certain words are. A strategic choice of investigating the occurrences of
terrified, petrified and horrified in fiction and newspapers was made since it seems
more likely that these words occur more frequently in these text types. An AmE corpus
and a BrE corpus were chosen in order to be able to find out whether these words are
used differently in these two varieties of English.
The COCA and the BNC were searched in order to collect data. After logging on
to the corpus website the emotional adjective e.g. terrified was typed in the search box.
At POS LIST „all adjectives was chosen in order only to get adjectives and no other
word classes. After clicking on „charts and „search, tables showing the frequency of
the adjective were shown within the different subcorpora available. The focus was on
the newspaper and fiction tables and on the number of frequencies calculated per
million words.
In order to obtain lists of interesting collocations to analyse the emotional
adjective and an asterisk was typed in the search box, e.g. terrified *. Under sections
„yes was chosen in order to be able to see from which subcorpora each collocation
came. The thirty most common collocations were put in tables and from those tables the
most interesting collocations were selected based on which word class they belong to.
For instance, determiners, conjunctions and prepositions were not selected as they did
not tell anything about the contextual differences between the adjectives. Instead nouns,
verbs and adverbs were selected. Of this reason some of the tables in the result section
only contain six or seven collocations while other tables contain many more
collocations. After being put in tables the different collocations were analysed and
compared.
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3.3 Limitations and problems
The biggest difficulty during this study was to decide what to accept as a collocation. In
the appendix, the thirty words occurring in the company of the node words terrified,
petrified and horrified are presented in tables. According to Kennedy (1998:108), some
linguists argue that all these words are collocations, but as my personal interest was to
find the difference in meaning between the chosen adjectives, this study focuses on
words that intuitively are regarded as being collocations.
For this reason, the section about collocations mainly focuses on nouns and
intensifiers as collocates of…