BlogLearnLiterary Technique: Emotive Language

Literary Technique: Emotive Language

Emotions face miniature colourful. Happy smiley and sadness emotional - Emotive Language

Trying to wrap your head around the literary technique of emotive language?

Look no further — we’ve got you covered with a deeper dive into this technique! In this summary, we’ve outlined the meaning and definition of emotive language, how it’s used by composers, and how to approach analysing emotive language in your texts, complete with some important examples for you to see emotive language in action.

Keep reading to find out more!

What is Emotive Language?
How is Emotive Language Used?
Emotive Language Examples
How to Analyse Emotive Language

What is Emotive Language?

Word choice is one of the fundamental building blocks of creative writing, because different words affect how the writing — including dialogue and speech — of a text is received.

Emotive language is an extremely important technique in creating audience engagement with a text. Also called ‘loaded language’, emotive language occurs when authors choose words extremely carefully to evoke specific emotional responses in a reader.

Most commonly, emotive language is used in highly emotional or descriptive scenes or situations. Thus, emotive language may also be considered a part of ‘pathos’, or a way of tuning into the audience’s emotions in order to evoke a particular feeling (often to persuade the reader to a character’s plight).

Some famous examples of emotive language include:

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

“So, thought Septimus, looking up, they are signalling to me…it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty…he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky and bestowing upon him in their…laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty…Tears ran down his cheeks.”

Queen Elizabeth I (Speech to Troops)

“I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.”

Theater mask isolated illustration character tragedy comedy

How is Emotive Language used?

There are several ways that emotive language can be achieved, including by using provoking language, or manipulating the connotations of a word.

Certain words give us certain feelings. When we are reading, we don’t just take in the information objectively — for example, the word ‘gun’ would trigger fear, while the word ‘puppy’ would trigger happiness. Whether you know it or not, words shape how we view reality!

This can lead us to support an argument or character, or go against them. The words ‘peaceful’ and ‘hostile’ elicit different emotions in us. With the words ‘peaceful’ and ‘silent’, notice how they are synonyms, but the choice of word changes how you feel!

Emotive language is also often used in conjunction with rhetorical devices, symbolism and extended metaphors, and is often attached to themes of romance/love, grief/loss, and joy (explored in our examples section below).

It can also be positive or negative, depending on an author’s intention.

Let’s take a closer look at these things now!

Provoking Language

Provoking language, also known as ‘trigger words’, is one of the simplest forms of emotive language, and one of the easiest to spot. Certain words provoke instantaneous reactions in readers, based on their usage and the association of particular emotions with particular words.

These words include ‘contempt’, ‘terror’, ‘surprise’, and ‘joy’. Authors thus use these words in order to elicit these emotional responses in readers, in order to demonstrate to them the emotions of the characters or the context that is presently being described.

Many times, readers are able instantly connect with a character, as they are easily able to understand the emotion behind the words.

For example, consider the two following sentences:

  • “The wolf was attacked by the bear.”
  • “The defenceless wolf was violently attacked by the gruesome bear.”

The difference in sentences is clear — the first holds little to no emotion, merely stating a fact. However, the second clearly positions the reader to sympathise with the wolf, eliciting emotions such as anger and sadness.

Provoking language thus serves to quickly and easily elevate the emotion of a text.

Apple Rotten

Connotations and Emotive Language

A connotation (sometimes referred to as a ‘double meaning’) is an idea, concept, or feeling that a word invokes, aside from its literal or primary meaning.

Authors thus often use words with recognisable underlying meanings, implications, and metaphors in order to evoke an emotional response in readers, relying on connotations to double the meaning and effect of phrases.

Connotations thus allow authors to introduce positive and negative emotive language. This is based on commonplace connotations of words, 

A famous example is outlined at the top of this article. Going beyond their physical sense, Queen Elizabeth I’s use of the words “heart” and “stomach” has a double meaning: they can also mean ‘spirit’/‘love’ and ‘courage’, respectively.

Examples we think are helpful include:

“Rotten to the core” – besides its literal meaning, the phrase also connotes dysfunction, dishonesty, poor management, and corruption. In using such a phrase, particularly about a character, authors encourage readers to consider a person or thing in a negative light, often evoking negative emotions (disgust, anger) towards the subject.

“Doves” and “hawks” – commonly used as political symbols, these phrases connote opposing ideals, with doves representing peace and pacifism, while hawks symbolise violence and aggression. 

“Mum and Dad” as opposed to “mother and father” – the warmth of the nicknames in the first phrase connotes a loving, close family relationship, whereas the detachment of the second phrase creates emotional (and maybe physical) distance between characters. Because of this, the two phrases fundamentally alter how readers understand the context and characters they are presented with, based purely on the connotations of the words.

Common Emotive Language Examples

Open book

Because it can get clunky and awkward in character dialogue — seeing as people don’t naturally speak their minds in such elaborate ways — emotive language is more commonly seen in poetry (consider William Shakespeare’s sonnets, or Modernist poet TS Eliot).

However, it is still widely used in novels and short stories, including those by Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Khaled Hosseini, and Katherine Mansfield. 

Emotive Language Example 1: Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st”

Shakespeare’s overwhelmingly positive emotive language is particularly fitting here, as the sonnet describes the love of his life.

By consistently evoking images of summer, Shakespeare uses connotations to create emotive language; readers associate ‘summer’ with warmth, joy, and happiness.

By metaphorising his love as an ‘eternal summer’, Shakespeare further uses emotive language to demonstrate the depth of his emotion for his love, as he states that they will never decline, surpassing even readers’ expectations of summer. 

Emotive Language Example 2: I Have a Dream (speech) by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Merely by beginning the phrase with the word ‘happy’, King effectively evokes positive emotions in his audience, increasing their perception of his words.

This is supported by the superlative ‘greatest’ and the positive connotation of ‘freedom’, overall encouraging readers to proactively engage with King’s message. 

Emotive Language Example 3: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The Great Gatsby Book Aesthetic - Essay Analysis Featured Image

“This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

Combined with the personification and imagery of the ashes, the emotive language in this passage allows readers to connect with the people living inside the valley.

By introducing forlorn images through emotive language, Fitzgerald effectively compels readers to experience the valley as its inhabitants do — utilising negative emotive language — encouraging them to sympathise with the plight of those condemned to live and die there.

Check out our extensive list of quotes from The Great Gatsby!

How To Analyse Emotive Language as a Literary Technique

We know that that was all a lot to digest, so here’s a quick and easy checklist of things we think you should look for when analysing emotive language: 

#1: The Emotions

Consider what emotions the author wished to evoke in readers by considering how the text makes you feel (i.e. angry, sad, pitiful, happy, grieving). 

For more of a complex analysis, consider how words might trigger two or more emotions. They might even contradict or contrast one another.

Take this example from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.”

The word “bird” commonly suggests freedom, but Brontë has introduced the word “ensnares” to make it mean something different. She is more free than a bird, she is (as the next sentence says) “a free human being with an independent will”.

#2: The Context

Consider the events leading up to the current scene, and how they would have informed and shaped the emotional states of each character. This will allow you to better understand the emotions evoked by the author as well.

For example, in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet‘, Hamlet’s ‘O That This Too Solid Flesh Would Melt’ soliloquy comes after we learn that his mother quickly remarries Claudius after the death of the King.

From these sudden tragedies, we should read the soliloquy with the understanding that Hamlet is in despair.

#3: The Connotations

How has the author used the underlying meanings, implications, or metaphors of particular words to evoke meaning?

Consider ‘double meanings’ as well — for instance, ‘heart’ and ‘stomach’ go beyond their literal meanings, and can mean ‘spirit’/‘love’ and ‘courage’, respectively.

#4: The Character

It’s important to understand why a character is using this type of language, or how it is being used to reveal a character’s feelings.

This will change with each character, so you need to consider their motivations, desires, emotions, and personality when analysing the emotive language used by or about them.

Check out other examples of persuasive techniques!

And that’s all from us!

Head to our site for more articles, blog posts, and tips and tricks on how to ace your next English assessment. Good luck!

You can check out other language features we’ve written about below:

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Rujuta Banhatti is currently a third year Law/International Studies student at UNSW. As a Content Writer at Art of Smart, she is super keen to be able to write (read: academically rant) about texts that she’s absolutely loved, both at school and in general.

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