Syntax and semantics of psych verbs (on the problem of linguistic interpretation of texts written by persons with mental disorders)


Nikitina E.


The article focuses on linguistic participation within a crossdisciplinary psycholinguistic research that was aimed at investigating connections between language and cognition in norm and pathology on the example of essays written by persons with mental disorders (depression, schizophrenia). The theme of the essays was “Me, Others, World”. The essays constitute a small corpus (43 depression, 25 schizophrenia, 481 mental health texts) and form three groups of experimental subjects. The corpus has been explored by means of machine analysis and systemic-functional linguistics and discourse analysis. Linguistic participation fell into two stages. Stage 1 implied interpretation of statistical results of morphology machine analysis. Stage 2 performed a study of psych causative and reflexive verbs in a view of their lexical and grammatical realizations in texts. The article pays special attention to Stage 2 investigation. The key goal was to test the hypothesis that person’s choice of psych verbs depends on his or her mental status. The results obtained confirm the hypothesis. The article consists of introduction, six sections and conclusion. Section 1 gives a description of the research in general and its linguistic components. Section 2 introduces characteristics of causatives and reflexives in a view of their structure and semantics. Sections 3-6 contain results of text linguistic analysis; connections between psych verbs usage and mental status of speakers traced are supplemented by attempts to predict some behavior and thinking features. Psych causatives and reflexives belong to verbs that mean state (not action) of animate experiencer and have a genetic relationship with nouns and predicative adverbs. Psych causatives obligatorily carry the seme of cause, reflexives are often accompanied by cause. They differ semantically and functionally (with no morphological reasons) from each other. Firstly, the former are more rational, the latter represent emotions through their perceptive manifestations; secondly, the former suppose a firt-person-(Ya)-experiencer and locate the situation in the time of speech (situation of speech and situation spoken take place simultaneously), the latter prefer a third-person-(on)-experiencer and narrate events in the past. For the purpose of psycholinguistic analysis, distinction of four types of psych verbs (negatives, positives, ambivalents, de-emotives) was important as well as their semantic transformations in the context of negation. Whereas the “healthy” group demonstrated a certain balance in usage of positives/negatives, both “mental disorder” groups tended to choose negatives. “Healthy” and “depression” groups were parallel in ambivalents usage. Speakers of the “depression” group avoided positives in association with Ta-experiencer. In the “depression” group Ta-causator constructions were preferable, which may mean their readiness to be responsible for somebody’s emotional states; also they were able to locate their own and other persons’ emotional states in present and past. Speakers of the “schizophrenia” group were not so flexible in sense of time and concentrated on their own personality and actual state, which corresponds to causative Ta-experiencer constructions in the present tense, neglect of reflexives and inclusive sentences (Ta-experiencer that shares emotion with others). The authors declare no conflicts of interests.

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DOI: 10.17223/19986645/79/6

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Reference link

Nikitina, E. N. & Onipenko, N. K. (2022) Syntax and semantics of psych verbs (on the problem of linguistic interpretation of texts written by persons with mental disorders) // Vestnik Tomskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Filologiya –Tomsk State University Journal of Philology. 79. рр. 109–130.