(E)motion in the XVIIth century

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According to Geeraerts & Grondelaers (1995: 176), “the medieval physiological-psychological theory of the four humors and the four temperaments has left its traces on our emotional vocabulary”. In this study, we would like to go a step further by showing how the changing conceptualisation in the era of Descartes also influenced our emotional lexicon. The XVIIth century can be considered as a key moment in the origin of modern emotive consciousness (see Bloem 2008). For instance, from this period on, the term émotion is used more frequently in a rather abstract sense instead of the “mouvements de l’ame”, which was commonly used until then in order to refer to emotional changes. In our analysis, we confront the semantic and syntactic profile of the verbs émouvoir and mouvoir in order to study their uses within the XVIIth century. Therefore, the attested occurrences are analysed in a semasiological way, inspired by Geeraerts’ (1997) prototype semantics. I especially peruse some encyclopaedic treaties like for instance Le tableau des passions humaines (1620), Les charactères des passions (1640), De l’usage des passions (1642) and Les passions de l’âme (1649). These works provide us with very important testimonies regarding the changing conceptualisation of emotions. In other words, I examine the evolution of émouvoir and mouvoir within reflections about the nature of emotions in order to demonstrate the close connection between culture and lexicon (see also Kövecses 2005; Gevaert 2005). Keywords: Descartes; metaphors; cultural and diachronic perspective; semantic and syntactic profile; verbal analysis of mouvoir and émouvoir


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