Defining emotion concepts

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This article demonstrates that emotion concepts-including the so-called basic ones, such as anger or sadness-can be defined in terms of universal semantic primitives such as 'good', 'bad', 'do', 'happen', 'know', and 'want', in terms of which all areas of meaning, in all languages, can be rigorously and revealingly portrayed. The definitions proposed here take the form of certain prototypical scripts or scenarios, formulated in terms of thoughts, wants, and feelings. These scripts, however, can be seen as formulas providing rigorous specifications of necessary and sufficient conditions (not for emotions as such, but for emotion concepts), and they do not support the idea that boundaries between emotion concepts are "fuzzy." On the contrary, the small set of universal semantic primitives employed here (which has emerged from two decades of empirical investigations by the author and colleagues) demonstrates that even apparent synonyms such as sad and unhappy embody different-and fully specifiable-conceptual structures. © 1992.




Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Defining emotion concepts. Cognitive Science, 16(4), 539–581.

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