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Emotive emphasis in communication

Emotive emphasis in communication

I discussed focus as an instrument of prominence in my last column. Another way to spice up a speech or writing is through the deployment of emotive emphasis. Unlike focus, emotive emphasis is not necessarily achieved through prominence. Emotive emphasis involves the deliberate use of words or other communicative tools to elicit emotion from the listeners or readers. Language users need mastery of emotive emphasis in order to deploy language with special kinds of appeal and effect. The rest of this piece will, therefore, discuss ways through which emotive emphasis is achieved in language use.

To begin with, the “do” class of primary auxiliary verbs is used to place emphasis on a proposition. The addition or omission of the do-verb does not affect the grammaticality or otherwise of the sentence, but it adds emphasis to what is being said, as the exchange below shows:

Speaker 1: Does she come for classes?

Speaker 2: Yes, she does.

Speaker 1: Are you sure?

Speaker 2: She does come.

The insertion of “does” in the last turn of Speaker 2 helps lay emphasis on the claim that the person in question comes to class. Other examples of such emphasis include:

You did get me troubled (emphasis).

You got me troubled (plain sentence).

Note that further intensification can be achieved with the do-verb by using adverbs such as “really” and “certainly”, as seen below:

He comes regularly (plain sentence).

He does come regularly (emphasis).

He really does come regularly (further intensification)

Moreover, exclamatory expressions introduced by “what” and “that” are used to emphasise utterances. Usually for this function, “what” and “that” are followed by a noun phrase. They are used to express an extreme degree of a situation. Examples are seen in the two exchanges below:

Read also: Interpersonal relationships, character and nationhood

Exchange One

Speaker 1: I hope the day went well.

Speaker 2: What a day it has been!

Exchange 2

Speaker 1: I learnt that boy is sick.

Speaker 2: Yes, that fine boy!

The reactions from the second speakers in both exchanges show emphasis which is used to achieve an emotional effect in the interactions.

Moving on, words such as “so” and “such” could be given prominence to create emphasis. Although these words are often deployed for emphasis in speeches, they are capable of revealing emotional involvement to the proposition of an utterance, as the example sentences below illustrate:

He’s a nice man (plain sentence).

He’s such a nice man (emotive emphasis).

I am pleased with her (plain sentence).

I’m so pleased with her (emotive emphasis).

Instructively, reinforcement is another way to achieve emphasis. Quirk and Greenbaum (1973) described reinforcement as a feature of colloquial style whereby some items are repeated (either completely or by pronoun substitution for purposes of emphasis, focus or thematic arrangement). Reinforcement is used for the purpose of emphasis or clarity as the examples below show:

That is so so impossible.

His performance was way way below my expectation.

He is far far ahead of his contemporaries.

A pronoun can also be used to achieve emphasis when it is substituted for an initial noun phrase within a clause. This usually happens in informal speeches:

This man called Kunle–he will never let anyone touch his phone.

Similar to the use of pronouns is the deployment of noun phrases for emphasis. A noun phrase can be added to the end of a sentence, especially in informal talks, to clarify the referent of a pronoun earlier used:

They are all the same, these men that are out there.

Sometimes, too, in casual talks, a clausal element could be used to achieve the emphasis in a sentence as seen below:

He never listens to anybody; he never does.

That is the man I’m talking about; that is he.

Intensifying adjectives are also used to achieve emotive emphasis. These adjectives are either used to amplify a noun or lower its effect, and they are capitalised in the following examples:



The PRECISE reason

The ONLY occasion

Like adjectives, adverbs also serve the emphatic function. Examples of such adverbs are capitalised in the structures below:

That was a REALLY good performance.

She wrote an EXTREMELY bad article.

She has a REALLY lovely voice.

In conclusion, emphasis is an integral part of communication, which is deployed to achieve clarity. Thankfully, this piece has discussed some of the ways emphasis is achieved in language use.