Surprised? Why? The Expression of Surprise in French and in English: An Experimental Approach

  • Pascale Goutéraux
Part of the Contributions To Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 97)


The psycholinguistic research reported in this paper posits a chaining of cognitive phases typical of any surprise episode and the inter-relatedness of emotional and rationalizing linguistic features. An experimental approach has been used to explore the reasons why the presentation of aesthetic visual ‘sources’- a series of works of art- can trigger surprise reactions, hence the title: Surprised? Why? Although surprise is spontaneously expressed and described in fragmented, disorganized, apparently haphazard verbal forms, we have attempted to reconstruct the cognitive scripts underlying the discourse of surprise, by focusing on linguistic manifestations of disconnection, emotional response and adjustment, as three main phases of the cognitive schema of surprise. This work-in-progress is based on 25 recordings and transcripts of spontaneous reactions and emotive self-reports by French and English monolinguals, bilinguals and advanced learners of English. It is part of a larger corpus under completion at University Paris-Diderot, France, within the framework of Surprise, a Vector for Enlarged Cognition, an interdisciplinary project funded by the Research National Agency (French ANR). The study aims at uncovering invariant and variable psycholinguistic features in the surprise discourse of native and non-native speakers of English and French.


Expression of surprise Psycho-linguistics French English Cognitive strategies Emotions Experimental task Works of art 


  1. Altarriba, Jeanette. 2006. Cognitive approaches to the study of emotion-laden and emotion words in monolingual and bilingual memory. In Pavlenko, A. (Ed.). Bilingual minds, emotional experience, expression and representation. Clevedon. England. Multilingual Matters: 232–256.Google Scholar
  2. Bublatzky, Florian, Pedro Guerra, Carmen Pastor, Harald Schupp, and Jaime Vila. 2013. Additive effects of threat-of-shock and picture valence on startle reflex modulation. PLOS ONE 8 (1): 1–6, Last accessed Sept 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Caffi, Claudia, and Richard Janney, eds. 1994. Involvement in language. Special Issue of Journal of Pragmatics 22: 325–373.Google Scholar
  4. Cosnier, Jacques. 2006. Psychologie des Émotions et des Sentiments. Paris. France. Retz.Google Scholar
  5. Damasio, Antonio. 1994. Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Grosset/Putnam Book.Google Scholar
  6. Delancey, Scott. 2001. The mirative and evidentiality. Journal of Pragmatics 33: 369–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dewaele, Jean-Marc. 2010. Emotions in multiple languages. London: Palgrave MacMillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ekman, Paul. 1992. Are there basic emotions? Psychology Review 99: 150–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goossens, Vannina. 2005. Les noms de sentiments, esquisse de typologie sémantique fondée sur les collocations verbales. LIDIL 32: 103–121.Google Scholar
  10. Johnson-Laird, Peter, and Keith Oatley. 1989. The language of emotions: An analysis of a semantic field. Cognition and Emotion 3 (2): 81–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kövecses, Zoltán. 2000. Metaphor and emotion, language, culture and body in human feeling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Lang, Peter, Margaret Bradley, and Bruce Cuthbert. 1990. Emotion, attention, and the startle reflex. Psychological Review 97 (3): 377–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Meyer, Wulf-Uwe, Rainer Reisenzein, and Achim Schützwohl. 1997. Toward a process analysis of emotions: The case of surprise. Motivation and Emotion 21 (3): 251–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Novakova, Iva, Vannina Goossens, and Elena Melnikova. 2012. « Associations sémantiques et lexicales spécifiques: sur l’exemple du lexique émotionnel des champs de surprise et de déception », Congrès Mondial de Linguistique Française SHS Web of Conferences, 1020–1021. Last accessed on Sept 2014.
  15. Ortony, Andrew, Gerald Clore, and Mark Foss. 1987. The referential structure of the affective lexicon. Cognitive Science 11: 341–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ortony, Andrew, Gerald Clore, and Allan Collins. 1988. The Cognitive Structure of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pavlenko, Aneta. 2006. Bilingual selves. In Bilingual minds, emotional experience, expression and representation, ed. A. Pavlenko, 1–33. Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 2008. Emotion and emotion-laden words in the bilingual lexicon. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11 (2): 147–164.Google Scholar
  19. Plantin, Christian. 2011. Les Bonnes raisons des émotions: Principes et méthode pour l’étude du discours émotionné. Berne: Peter Lang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Plutchik, Robert. 1980. Emotion: A psychoevolutionary synthesis. NewYork: Longman Higher Education.Google Scholar
  21. Reisenzein, Rainer. 2000. The subjective experience of surprise. In The message within: The role of subjective experience in social cognition and behavior, ed. H. Bless and P. Forgas, 262–279. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  22. Stein, Nancy, and Marc Hernandez. 2007. Assessing understanding and appraisals during emotional experience. In Handbook of emotion elicitation and assessment, ed. A. Coan and J. Allen, 298–317. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Syssau, Arielle. 2006. Emotion et Cognition. In Emotion et Cognition: Quand l’émotion parle à la cognition, ed. N. Blanc et al., 13–67. Paris, Ed. In Press.Google Scholar
  24. Valetopoulos, Freiderikos. 2013. Traduire la peur et la surprise: une étude contrastive en Grec moderne et en Français. In Des Sentiments au point de vue, ed. A. Chuquet, N. Raluca, and F. Valetopoulos, 95–116. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.Google Scholar
  25. Vermersch, Pierre. 1994. L’Entretien d’explicitation en formation continue et initiale. Paris: ESF.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pascale Goutéraux
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CLILLAC-ARP, EA 3967ParisFrance

Personalised recommendations