Expressive content and the semantics of contexts
NSF Grant No. BCS-0642752

Project abstract

Nearly everything we say carries an undercurrent of information about our feelings and attitudes. This expressive content can be merely suggested, but it is often directly encoded. We have words and morphemes for honoring those around us and conveying our approval. We also have (generally taboo) morphemes that denigrate, that convey our displeasure.

The effects of using these lexical items can be dramatic. They create charged emotional states. They are revealing of the speaker's perspective, and they significantly impact how current and future utterances are perceived.

The importance of this content has long been recognized, but it has, until recently, looked utterly foreign from the perspective of linguistic theory. This project will help change that. Its overarching goal is to identify expressive content as an important, coherent area of research and to bring together researchers throughout the cognitive sciences to work on the topic.

Potts's current results, and his overall approach, square well with the neurological evidence and they are informed by an algorithmic perspective on linguistic meaning. In addition to providing the first major body of research on this topic to the theoretical linguistics community, the work can have an impact in discourse analysis, in law, and in the general public discourse.