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We ordinarily take our sentiments and the sentiments of others as natural. In American and European popular culture, love, joy, anger, fear, and sadness are understood as if they are equally constructed universally. Recent cognitive research of English, Japanese, Chinese, Hungarian, and other linguistic expressions of love, fear, and anger demonstrate the huge differences in cultural constructions. Can these cultural, cognitive, and linguistic insights help us to develop a new kind of research on sentiment and on the language of sentiment in the Hebrew Bible?[1]

Cognitive linguistics and sentiments: metaphor, metonym, and prototypical scenario

The problem of how sentiments are conceptualized, expressed, and realized in purposeful actions in each language and culture establishes the outline of extensive linguistic studies. The purpose of this paper is to explore the communication of the sentiment of anger in biblical Hebrew and in English and Japanese, where sentiments are viewed as emotions that are culturally defined and organized: sentiments are socially constructed emotions.[2] The intention is to discover through language to what extent people in different societies experience the same and different emotions because of their cultural backgrounds. The question, then, is what does language reveal about emotional thought and its cultural construction in the Hebrew Bible?

Scholars pursuing cognitive and cognitive linguistic approaches have argued that sentiments should not be regarded as mere feeling states based in physiology, but are governed by dimensions of cognition. Languages in various cultures have some traits in common as far as their expression of sentiment is concerned. Kövecses argued convincingly that people conceptualize emotions by metaphors, metonyms, and prototypical scenarios.[3]

  • Metaphors reflect our ability to think of (or "construe") one thing in terms of something else. An important strand in cognitive linguistics, associated especially with the work of Lakoff, claims that metaphor is much more than a literary ornament; it permeates much of our thinking, and hence our language.[4] For example, states of affairs are understood, metaphorically, to be locations. Or experiences of time are commonly conceptualized in metaphorical terms: "Christmas is approaching," "Time passes," "You're wasting my time."
  • Metonymy is the process by which an expression that basically designates entity e comes to be used of an entity closely associated with e, within a given domain; an easy to memorize example of metonymy is "He is a prick." The construal of a metonym is commonly based on physical or indexical association. Take, for instance, the metonymical phrases: "I heard the piano" and "I am in the telephone book."
  • A prototype is the most representative instance of a schema; scenario is the (narrative) pattern or chain of events that constitutes the content of an action, behavior, or emotion; prototypical scenario is the most representative series of actions or events in a culture that constitutes the content of an action, behavior, or emotion.[5]
Kövecses' cultural model of sentiments thus explains feeling states as both psychobiologically universal and culturally specific. In highlighting the importance of figurative or iconic language (metaphors) in the conceptualization of emotion, the role of expressing physiological conditions in indexical language (metonyms), and the conventionalized usages (prototypical scenarios) of sentiments in each culture, he has been able to provide a new synthesis in the study of sentiment from a cognitive perspective.

Anger in English and Japanese

Kövecses analyzed the sentiment of anger in American English and described its general metaphorical model as "the body is a container of anger," which is specified into other metaphors: "anger is a fluid in a container," "when the intensity of anger increases, the fluid rises," "anger is heat," and "anger is explosion." Some of the most often used metonyms are: body heat, internal pressure, redness in face and neck, agitation, and impeded perception. In order to develop a mental picture of what anger means in English, we have to grasp its manifestation by characteristic behavior, including some series of expected actions. This is called the anger scenario, described by Kövecses as:[6]

Stage 1: Offending event
Stage 2: Anger
Stage 3: Attempt at control
Stage 4: Loss of control
Stage 5: Act of retribution.

This anger scenario may differ from anger scenarios in other languages and cultures. This cultural dimension of prototypical scenarios becomes clear in Matsuki's study of the Japanese scenario of anger,[7] in which she, on the one hand, shows the existence of metonyms and metaphors in Japanese similar to those in English: some of the most common metaphors are "anger is the heat of a fluid in a container," "anger is fire," and "anger is explosion"; some of the most used metonyms are body heat, internal pressure, redness in face and neck, agitation, and impeded perception.

On the other hand, she demonstrates that the location of the sentiment of anger in the body in Japanese differs from that in American English. So, in Japanese hara can be viewed as the container of anger, where hara denotes the belly, stomach, or center of the body. The effect is that, in Japanese, the anger scenario is partly similar to and partly different from the English scenario. When a Japanese person is offended and gets angry, it is expressed in Japanese that "his (or her) belly rises up." The next stage in the Japanese prototypical scenario is that he or she attempts to control anger and tries to keep it in his or her belly. If he or she still experiences increasing anger, conflicts go beyond the container of the belly and move to the chest (mune). The chest never rises up in Japanese; it is the container for anger overflowing from the belly and the seat of nausea. Conflict and frustration caused by efforts to control growing anger provoke nausea. When a person is about to lose control, increasing anger comes to the head (atama). The head is never said to rise up, nor is it responsible for nausea. It is the place that anger reaches after extreme internal conflict; it undermines mental faculties.

Matsuki argues that anger in Japanese might be divided in three stages belly, chest and head. The prototypical scenario for anger in Japanese is therefore:

Stage 1: Offending event
Stage 2: Anger: his or her belly (hara) rises up
Stage 3: Attempt at control: try to keep it in his or her belly
Stage 4: Increasing anger: anger fills the chest (mune)
Stage 5: Attempt at control: effort to control anger provokes nausea
Stage 6: Loss of control: anger comes to the head (atama)
Stage 7: Act of retribution.

At the first and second stages, which are identified with the belly and chest areas respectively, the anger is still under control. Stages 1 and 2 in the English anger scenario apply therefore to anger in Japanese. However, in Japanese, stage 3 — the attempt at control — is more elaborate than in English. "The consideration of the sociocultural context in which these notions function is fundamental to understanding the prototypical scenario of Japanese anger. Even when a person gets angry . . . his anger may be kept inside; he may smile while fighting increasing anger."[8]

In stage 4, where the anger reaches the head, the anger is not under control anymore and a person could lose his or her ability to behave rationally. However, the next to the last stage of anger, that is, the stage in which the fury reaches the head, which leads to the last stage of retribution, is in Japanese connected only with men and not with women: "In today's Japanese society women have no means of retribution, even when they get angry. Social conventions governing public life provide women with limited ways of communicating their anger. Although the legal rights of women have improved, gender roles have stayed relatively traditional."[9] In short, Matsuki argues that anger in Japanese might be perceived in three stages: at the first and second stages the anger is still under control, while at the final stage, where anger reaches the head, a person could lose the ability to behave rationally.

In a review of Matsuki's study, Sew showed that anger in Chinese exhibits a similar path:[10] it begins at the stomach level and goes then to the chest; when the fire of anger "topples the hat," it reflects the unsuppressible rage that gushes out from the head. Here again, the head represents the last uncontrollable stage of anger.

Anger in the Hebrew Bible

In Biblical Hebrew, the following verb-noun pairs are used to designate anger: anaph and aph (be angry; nose, face, anger), kharah and kharon (burn of anger; anger), yakham and khemah (be hot; heat, rage), ka`as and ka`as (be vexed, angry; vexation, anger), za`aph and za`aph (be enraged, vexed; rage), ragaz and rogez (be agitated; agitation, raging), za`am and za`am (be indignant; indignation, anger), qatsaph and qetseph (be wroth; wrath), hit`abber and `evrah (infuriate oneself; overflow, fury). Remarkably, out of 714 occurrences, 518 have a divine subject, thus expressing divine anger; merely 196 cases have a human subject, thus expressing human anger. The sentiment of anger arises when someone or something interferes with the deity's plans or with someone's plans or with His/his attainment of previously set goals. According to this definition, the emotion of anger must always have an object; an individual cannot be angry without being angry at something.

In 2000, Krüger presented a cognitive analysis of the sentiment of anger in biblical Hebrew, in which he applied Kövecses' insights.[11] Thus, he was able to show that the metonymical model of anger in the Hebrew Bible is heat or anger as fire, or, more specifically, "when the intensity of anger increases, the heat rises." In his application of Kövecses' metaphorical model, he made the following inventory of anger metaphors in the Hebrew Bible:

1. the body is a container for anger
2. anger is the heat of a fluid in the container
3. when the intensity of anger increases, the fluid rises
4. intense anger produces pressure on the container
5. to control anger is to keep the pressure back
6. increased anger produces steam
7. when anger becomes too intense, the person explodes.

Krüger made an important first step in a cognitive analysis of anger, but more extended analyses and detailed explanations are still to be made.[12] I will here concentrate on five aspects: (1) the location of anger in the body, (2) the verb most often used (93 times) to designate anger, viz. kharah, (3) the other verbs, (4) the grammatical subject of verbs designating anger, and (5) the prototypical scenario of anger in the Hebrew Bible.

(1) The body parts where anger's affect is located are the nostrils, the mouth, the lips, the tongue, the breath, the throat, and the heart. Anger in the Hebrew Bible appears to be located in the mouth, face, and head; it is associated with the mouth when this anger is expressed in speech. Anger's immediate effect is that the object of anger is burned, spurned, eaten, consumed or devoured; these metaphors presuppose anger's location in the mouth, too. The fact that the sentiment of anger is located in the mouth, lips, and face is, therefore, a characteristic feature of biblical Hebrew.[13]

(2) The verb kharah is used fifty-one times with "nose" or "nostrils" ("someone's nose burned hot"). It obviously does not describe an emotion kept inside. It is mainly followed by destructive actions, such as murder, wiping out, or crash. This feature — together with the location of anger in the nostrils or nose, lips, and tongue, and not a location in the belly, stomach or chest (representing the still controllable stages of anger in Japanese) — makes it plausible that this collocation denotes uncontrollable fury; once aroused, it immediately rises to the head or to the nose.

(3) In the Hebrew Bible, the other verbs designating anger are related to actions of burning, overflowing, or melting, so that the irrational and destructive power of anger is all too apparent. Whereas in Japanese and Chinese, the different stages of growing pressure and attempts for control are extensively elaborated in the prototypical scenario of anger, in the Hebrew Bible no mention is made of attempts to control the anger, to keep it in the belly or chest or in another of the body's internal parts. In contrast, the metaphors of "anger as fire" and "anger as explosion" are very frequently used.

(4) The grammatical subjects of the verbs designating anger are either YHWH or a male human being. They are never used with a female subject.[14] The same is true for the other verbs or notions connected with anger. Anger, wrath, curse, being hot with anger, burning with anger, melting with anger, outbursts of anger — no woman is described in such a state in the Hebrew Bible. This might be explained by the fact that biblical texts originate in a patriarchal society and therefore pay limited attention to women's behavior or emotions. In this relatively small corpus of texts, the emotion of anger is socially construed in such a way that it is not linked with women. It appears to be the result of social conventions that provide women (at least in the biblical corpus) with limited ways of communicating their anger.

(5) The occurrences of anger in the Hebrew Bible allow us to reflect on its prototypical scenario. Consequently, the person in a state of anger may be expected to seek revenge in the near future. In Kövecses' terms:

stage 1: Report of an offence or offending event
stage 2: Anger takes over and burning heat immediately rises to the head
stage 3: Loss of control and incontrollable fury
stage 4: Act of retribution.

Whereas in Japanese the control stage is dictated by strong social conventions and is linguistically more developed and elaborated than in American English, the opposite is true for biblical Hebrew. Here the stages clearly follow directly one after another: a report of an offense arouses anger as its reaction. This is manifested characteristically by an immediate rise of heat to the head and expressed by the nostrils' burning heat as an overflowing, incontrollable fury; the subject in a state of anger may be expected to seek revenge in the near future. This direct or "primary" reaction is distinct from the American "secondary" reaction with a stage of attempt at control, and opposes the Japanese controlled or "tertiary" reaction.

It is not really surprising, then, that in the Hebrew Bible language of anger is never used with a female subject. Women are conceptualized as having and expressing sentiments directed to their inner parts, such as grieve, sadness, or joy, but culture, language, and biblical texts do not give access to their sentiment of anger, a sentiment that is addressed to someone else. The uncontrollability of anger, which was in the mindset of that time and culture an essential feature of anger, made it impossible to link it to women. Such an attribution to women might have opened up considering the possibility of female control over a man through angry aggression.

Through examination of Asian languages, it has become clear that women are constrained in speech and in other responses, so that one may challenge the dominant view that control of the sentiments is best exemplified by men and that women enjoy a kind of freedom of speech and behavior. One may even challenge the view that YHWH (or Elohim) in the Hebrew Bible exemplifies control of the sentiments, for he is more than five hundred times represented as subjected to the explosive force of fury and aggression leading to violence. Thus, cognitive research into the language of sentiment may have some theological consequences as well.

Ellen van Wolde, Tilburg University, The Netherlands


[1] This article is based on a paper presented at the 2006 SBL Annual Meeting in Washington DC. The complete text will appear in Biblical Interpretation 15/5 (2007).

[2] G. B . Palmer, and D. J. Occhi, "Introduction: Linguistic Anthropology and Emotional experience," in Languages of Sentiment: Cultural Constructions of Emotional Substrates (eds. G. B. Palmer and D. J. Occhi; Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1999), 1-24.

[3] Z. Kövecses, Metaphors of Anger, Pride, and Love: A Lexical Approach to the Structure of Concepts (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1986); Z. Kövecses, Emotion Concepts (New York: Springer, 1990). [4] G. Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

[5] See E. J. van Wolde (ed.), Job 28. Cognition in Context (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

[6] Kövecses, Metaphors, 28.

[7] K. Matsuki, "Metaphors of Anger in Japanese," in Language and the Cognitive Construal of the World (eds. J. R. Taylor and R. E. MacLaury; Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995), 137-51).

[8] Matsuki, "Metaphors," 144.

[9] Matsuki, "Metaphors," 149.

[10] J. W. Sew, review article of K. Matsuki, Metaphors of Anger in Japanese, Cognitive Linguistics 10/1 (1999): 93-104.

[11] P. A. Krüger, "A Cognitive Interpretation of the Emotion of Anger in the Hebrew Bible," Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 26/1 (2000): 181-93.

[12] Krüger, "A Cognitive Interpretation" mainly offers an inventory of metaphors (and metonyms) of anger and concentrates on 34 texts (out of 196 occurrences).

[13] In contrast to M. S. Smith, "The Heart and Innards in Israelite Emotional Expressions: Notes from Anthropology and Psychobiology, Journal of Biblical Literature 117/3 (1998): 415-26, who states: "The fact that the sentiment of anger is located in the heart, face and throat (in the Hebrew Bible) correlates with cross-cultural psychological information worldwide." The earlier mentioned studies by Matsuki and Sew demonstrate that Smith's claim is incorrect.

[14] In 1 Sam 1, the verb ka`as is three times used with the female subject Hannah. Whereas anger is directed against someone else, Hannah targets her emotion inwards, so that ka`as seems not to represent rage or fury, but a feeling of deep sadness. Her prayer to YHWH confirms this meaning: she speaks of her suffering, but does not refer to any wrath against Penninah whatsoever.

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Citation: Ellen van Wolde, " Language of Sentiment," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2007]. Online:


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