Emotive Language: Definition, Effects & Examples

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  • 0:01 Emotive Language Defined
  • 1:18 Effects of Emotive Language
  • 2:40 Examples of Emotive Language
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Words like 'sad' or 'happy' aren't the only kinds of 'emotive' language out there. Keep reading to learn more about this emotionally evocative use of language, its effects, and its appearances in the real world!

Tugging Heartstrings: Emotive Language Defined

Have there ever been times when you told your parents about a movie that you were absolutely 'dying to see,' or maybe about a new game system that you just 'had to have?' Using your words in an attempt to tug at parental heartstrings means you've employed emotive language, or words and phrases meant to evoke an emotional response to a subject.

The antithesis to emotive language is known as referential language, which represents the use of a word or phrase solely by its lexical definition, or denotation. For instance, using 'cool' strictly to denote temperature would be a use of referential language.

On the other hand, emotive language relies on connotation, which refers to the implied meaning or significance of a word or phrase beyond its definition. The funny thing about connotation is that it allows for a variety of interpretations depending on any number of contexts. Take, for example, the word 'hot,' which, like 'cool,' lexically denotes a level of thermal energy. However, this same term can take on a wide variety of connotations - from measures of attractiveness to identifying something as stolen, popular, or even pushed to its limit.

Effects of Emotive Language

No matter what the audience, writers and public speakers can use some form of emotive language to grab their attention. Hearing words like 'savagery' or 'tyranny' are likely to pull us in because we react to them so quickly due to their emotional baggage, as well as the fact that we don't hear them that often in common conversation.

Once they have a captive audience, orators and authors employ emotive language for the same reasons you might do so with your parents. They want the reader or listener to have an emotional reaction to what they're trying to say. By eliciting an emotional response, the audience is much more receptive to the arguments they're taking in. Let's face it: We humans are often much more likely to give our approval of something based on our emotional connection to it rather than through logical consideration.

The only potential issue with using human emotions as a means of persuasion brings us back to connotation. Just as words and phrases may have various implied meanings, they can also affect different people in a variety of ways. For example, talking about the Holocaust might stir one person to anger, where it could bring another to tears. Nevertheless, effective users of emotive language know their audiences well and are able to tailor their words to obtain the desired emotional response. Let's take a look at some examples of emotive language now to see how they could be used to lead the audience by the heartstrings!

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