nl en

Language Acquisition: Anger and Pity, Laughter and Lust: The Language of Affect

Course 2010-2011

Admission Requirements



“The face that launch’d a thousand ships”: this is how Christopher Marlowe, in Doctor Faustus, describes Helena of Troy, wife of King Menelaos of Sparta, who eloped to Troy with her lover, Prince Paris. It is unlikely that Helena’s pretty face was enough to drag thousands of Greeks into a long and bloody war. Indeed, many words were spoken before the Trojan War. For example, Menelaos and Odysseus had undertaken a diplomatic mission to Troy to persuade King Priamos to send Helena back to Sparta. And most of the Greek kings and princes only sent troops because they had sworn an oath and Menelaos’s powerful brother, King Agamemnon, had reminded them of that oath, with threats if necessary. Who would resist the mighty King Agamemnon? And what precisely is threatening language?
The question that is central to this course is how language is used to influence our affects (at the beginning of the course we will ask ourselves the question why the word affect has been chosen here, instead of feelings or emotions). Which rhetorical and stylistic tools do speakers or writers have at their disposal to frighten their audience or readers? Can a charity use the same text it uses to arouse pity in the American public so that it will make a donation on a Dutch public? in other words, will it suffice to produce a Dutch translation of the charity brochure, or will it be necessary to produce a new text? How does language make us laugh? And why are some texts in which sexual acts are performed raised as erotic to the canon of literature, whereas other are considered “dirty books”? To find answers to these questions we will turn to linguistics and literary scholars, but also to philosophers and psychologists. Our materials: literary texts, but also speeches to the jury, propaganda, song lyrics, and film scripts. During the course, we will try our hand at moving our fellow-students to anger, pity, laughter or lust in short texts and speeches.

Course Objectives

At the end of the course, students will have broadened and deepened their knowledge and understanding of stylistics and rhetoric. Furthermore, they will have further developed their skills in applying stylistic and rhetorical theory to a variety of texts. Finally, they will have improved theiroral and written proficiency in English.


The timetable will be available from July 1 onwards on the Department website.

Mode of Instruction

Two-hour seminar per week.


  • Contribution to class discussion; short writing assignments; presentations during tutorial (40%)
  • Essay, to be submitted at the end of the course (60%)


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Jackson, H. (2002). Lexicography: An introduction. London: Routledge
  • Folder with background reading [Available for inspection at the English Department]


Students can register through uSis.

Contact information

English Department, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103c. Phone: 071 527 2144, or mail: