Giving horror a name

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In this paper, the relation between language and emotion is discussed byanalyzing the language of Holocaust victims and survivors. Focusing on therole of language in the conceptualization of emotions, it is shown that specificverbal means and structures will reveal much about the nature of emotions inextreme situations. In particular, the metaphoric expressions used in order toexpress and describe personal feelings disclose characteristics of the underlyingemotional structure. Texts of the private domain (diaries, memoirs andletters) of Holocaust literature show that language is the key point in trying tounderstand the relation between intense affective processing and the rest ofthe cognitive life. Confronted with degradation, humiliation and elimination,Holocaust victims had to cope with extreme emotions. It was extremely difficultto express such emotions. Only recently, research within linguistics has begunto analyze the “language of the victims” more thoroughly. In this paper, differentstages and processes are described concerning the emotional state of Holocaustvictims and their attempt to document it linguistically: the desperate attemptto cling to a normal life, shifting moments of despair and fear of death mingledwith hope and optimism, and the effort to keep and express normal life feelingson the one hand, and on the other hand, the total emotional indifference inorder to cope with the horror. It is shown that the distinction between emotionsand feelings plays a crucial role in explaining the state of emotional turmoil inwhich Holocaust victims found themselves.


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