Prototype theory and emotion semantic change

AbstractAn elaborate repertoire of emotions is one feature that distinguishes humans from animals. Language offers a critical form of emotion expression. However, it is unclear whether the meaning of an emotion word remains stable, and what factors may underlie changes in emotion meaning. We hypothesize that emotion word meanings have changed over time and that the prototypicality of an emotion term drives this change beyond general factors such as word frequency. We develop a vector-space representation of emotion and show that this model replicates empirical findings on prototypicality judgments and basic categories of emotion. We provide evidence that more prototypical emotion words have undergone less change in meaning than peripheral emotion words over the past century, and that this trend holds within each family of emotion. Our work extends synchronic theories of emotion to its diachronic development and offers a computational characterization of emotion semantics in natural language use.

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