Affective Meaning: An Exploration of Emotional Connections with Language

Language is a powerful tool for communication: through its use, we are able to convey emotions, ideas, and knowledge. This power has been explored extensively in the realm of linguistics, most notably through the study of affective meaning. Affective meaning is the emotional connection between a word or phrase and its corresponding definition. This connection may arise from its phonological, morphological, or semantic properties, as well as its use in the context of a particular culture or society.

Affective meaning has been studied by a variety of scholars, from linguists to psychologists and beyond. One of the earliest contributions to this field of study was made by the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, who proposed the notion of affective meaning in his 1790 work On Language. In it, he argued that the meaning of a word was not only based on its phonological and morphological properties, but also its emotional content. This idea has since been explored by a variety of linguists, including Ferdinand de Saussure, who argued that the affective meanings of words are largely determined by their social context.

More recently, affective meaning has been studied from a cognitive-psychological perspective. In particular, researchers have proposed the idea of affective priming, in which words with strong emotional associations are used to influence how we process and interpret other words. For example, words with positive affective meaning (e.g., “happiness”) can prime us to interpret other words more favorably, while words with negative affective meaning (e.g., “sadness”) can prime us to interpret other words more negatively.

Affective meaning is an important concept for understanding how language works. It can help us to better understand how we communicate, as well as how we interpret and respond to the language of others. While more research is needed to fully explore the implications of affective meaning, it is clear that it is an integral part of language and communication.


Humboldt, W. von. (1790). On Language: On the Diversity of Human Language Construction and Its Influence on the Mental Development of the Human Species. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Saussure, F. de. (1916). Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Bargh, J. A. (1993). Priming and the Cognitive Unconscious. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 1–67.

Fazio, R. H., Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Powell, M. C., & Kardes, F. R. (1986). On the Automatic Activation of Attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(2), 229–238.

Scroll to Top