Building up anger in interaction: embodied and linguistic resources for managing emotions in institutional settings

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentationScientific


In a lecture from 1972, Sacks (1992: 572) remarked: “we won’t find that strong sorrow and joy are just distributed over the course of the conversation but instead, there are real places for them to occur”.
Adopting the epistemological tools offered by Conversation Analysis and Interactional Linguistics, we aim to explore how interactants express emotions in situ and how the expression of anger is constructed and built up during the interaction. Our entry point is embodied, linguistic and lexical resources that
are mobilized in this interactional process of emotion management (Butler & Fritzgerald 2011; Hoey et al. 2021).

We investigated one institutional meeting of a consultancy company, for about 4 hours of multiperson interaction in present-day Italian. We transcribed the video-recorded data following Jefferson’s (2004) CA conventions for talk. The interaction scrutinized for this analysis presents four participants: the boss
of the company and 3 employees.
In our analysis, we show how a participant’s (Paolo, the chairman of the company) display of anger
toward the co-participants (Annina, Duilio, Mario, the employees) is eventually treated by the recipients as a directive (Sorjonen, Raevaara, & Couper-Kuhlen 2017): in other words, in this context, following instructions is more relevant for the participants than displaying affiliation (Calabria & Sciubba, forth.), as we show in excerpts 1 and 2 below. The establishment of intersubjectivity is complicated by the setting itself: the roles of the interactants in the company give them different deontic rights, which not only means they cannot directly disagree with a superior, but that only one participant, the boss Paolo, is
entitled to his anger, since this emotional display is deployed to ensure the progression of the meeting and to solve a practical issue within the company. In the excerpts scrutinized here the targets of the emotions – anger, impatience, exasperation – are inside the interaction: namely, they are in an asymmetric situation (cf. Sorjonen, Raevaara, and Couper-Kuhlen 2017) as employees. This asymmetry is oriented to by participants in different places throughout the interaction. As shown in excerpts 1 and 2 below, Paolo uses his deontic rights as boss to contrast possible disagreements (cf. Kangasharju 2002) and to give urgent directives. He does so in an effective way by mobilizing several verbal and nonverbal resources: lexical choices (e.g., colloquial register – e.g. non mi schiodo l.76 – and swearwords –eh cazzo, l.79 in excerpts 1 and 2), volume and voice quality, prosodic clues and body conduct. Among the other participants, only one (Annina) displays disagreement, and even anger, through embodiment and raised voice volume (not shown in the excerpts).

By conducting a sequential and situated analysis of swearwords and embodied conduct, we look at how the negotiation of emotions emerges in an institutional setting and is locally managed through participants’ language choices, their stance projection and responses, and their body conduct; consequently, we show how emotions are active parts of action formation and ascription. Thus, we
contribute to understandings of how emotions enable interactants to achieve intersubjectivity (Haddington 2007; Stivers 2008), even in delicate situations, playing a major role in the ways we experience the world around us and display this knowledge and understanding to our surroundings.

Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2

Butler, C. W., & Fitzgerald, R. (2011). “My f*** ing personality”: swearing as slips and gaffes in live television broadcasts. Text & Talk - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language Discourse Communication Studies 31(5): 525-551.
Calabria, V. & Sciubba M.E. (forth.). “Adesso m’incazzo!”: swearwords as resources for managing negative emotions in interaction, mediAzioni, (2022) vol. 32
Haddington, P. (2007). Positioning and alignment as activities of stancetaking in news interviews. In Englebretson, R. (Ed.). Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 283-317.
Hoey, E. M., et al. (2021). Using expletive insertion to pursue and sanction in interaction. Journal of Sociolinguistics 25(1): 3-25.
Jefferson, G. (2004). Glossary of transcript with an introduction. In Lerner, G. H. (Ed.). Conversation Analysis. Studies from the first generation. Amsterdam-Philadelphia: Benjamins, 13-31.
Kangasharju, H. (2002). Alignment in disagreement: Forming oppositional alliances in committee meetings. Journal of pragmatics 34(10-11): 1447-1471.
Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on conversation. Malden: Blackwell.
Sorjonen, M. L., L. Raevaara, and E. Couper-Kuhlen (Eds.) (2017). Imperative turns at talk: The design of directives in action, Amsterdam-Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Stivers, T. (2008). Stance, alignment, and affiliation during storytelling: When nodding is a token of affiliation. Research on language and social interaction 41(1): 31-57.
Period7 Oct 2022
Event titleAWIA Symposium 2022
Event typeConference
LocationAmsterdam, NetherlandsShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • swear words
  • Conversation Analysis
  • interactional linguistics
  • embodied action
  • anger
  • emotions
  • intersubjectivity
  • emotion
  • embodiment