Encoding emotions in Kuni, an oceanic language of Papua New Guinea

Alan Jones*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Languages encode emotions in a wide variety of ways. The ways often vary between languages or between language areas, but the present paper shows that, even within a single language, different emotions may be obligatorily encoded in quite different ways. Thus, in Kuni, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, certain emotions are encoded exclusively as monolexemic verbs, while others are represented, equally exclusively, by figurative noun-verb predications. Emotions of the latter type tend to be more richly lexicalized than those represented monolexemically, usually with alternative encodings available to speakers. In between these two contrasting categories lie two important emotions, love and anger, which can be encoded in either of the above ways. Using a 4,000-word mission dictionary dated 1937 as my corpus, I identify four sets of emotions on purely formal grounds, illustrating each set in turn. I then discuss the process of lexification (or univerbation) whereby some figurative predications were transformed into compound predicates and nouns. Finally, I speculate as to the sociocultural and interactional implications for speakers of the different possibilities for encoding emotion types.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-36
    Number of pages36
    JournalOceanic Linguistics
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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