Does emotion cause sociolinguistic variation? (EmoVar)

Speech is inextricably linked to the body. Despite this, little research has examined the influence that regular and predictable bodily postures (e.g., smiling when happy) can have on socially meaningful patterns of language use. This project addresses this gap by investigating the linguistic consequences of embodied emotion. We test whether experiencing certain emotions (e.g., happiness) causes people to adopt particular facial expressions (e.g., smiling), which in turn results in systematic and predictable linguistic outcomes (e.g., changes in the pronunciation of certain vowels, for example). If such a link between the body, emotion and speech is found, this would provide new information to help us better understand how linguistic variability emerges, how it becomes meaningful to language users, and how such variability spreads across a population. 

The study involves experiments in two languages: Danish and Swiss German. These languages are chosen because, although they are structurally similar, variation in each language is interpreted differently (e.g., vowel raising is perceived as more prestigious in Danish, but less prestigious in Swiss German). Examining results across the two languages therefore allows us to consider whether observed patterns are language specific. For both languages, we conduct an emotion induction experiment, in which spontaneous speech is elicited in different emotional conditions (e.g., satisfied, frustrated, happy, angry). Video recordings are analyzed using specialist software that automatically identifies movements in 468 key points in the face. This is combined with detailed acoustic analysis of audio recordings. Together, these analyses allow us to identify the relationship between embodiment and acoustic variability and help us to identify the role of emotion in motivating language variation and change.

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