Presentation Title

"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin": Semantic prosody and character identity in Harry Potter

Time

3:00 PM

Location

Silver Maple Ballroom - Social Sciences

Abstract

While it can seem as though we reveal our identities and perspectives mostly through deliberate and noticeable actions, this is not often the case. Indeed, everyday subtle linguistic choices can provide us with important information about how we construct our worldviews and negotiate our interactions with others. This is particularly true of language in media, including novels – the words an author uses to describe a character’s actions may uncover deeper assumptions being drawn upon. Semantic prosody analysis, which looks at the positive or negative associations of phrases by studying the words they frequently co-occur with, can be useful in this regard. For example, while the adjectives “utter” and “sheer” may share the same literal definition – meaning absolute or complete – “utter” is more frequently used in a negative context (e.g. “utter despair”), while “sheer” is more frequently used in a positive one (e.g. “sheer laughter”). Overall, this paper is concerned with semantic prosody in Harry Potter character descriptions. The focus will be on the language surrounding spells – who uses which spells the most, and how the descriptions of their use vary by spellcaster. For instance, we will examine how and if the protection spell Expecto Patronum is linguistically “conjured” differently when performed by Harry, the heroic protagonist, than when performed by Dolores Umbridge, a villainous archetype. By looking at these collocations, our goal is to uncover the underlying value judgments associated with each character’s personality in Harry Potter, gaining a deeper understanding of how “good” and “evil” identities are constructed in the process.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Guillermo Rodriguez

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Linguistics

Primary Research Category

Social Sciences

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"Better Hufflepuff than Slytherin": Semantic prosody and character identity in Harry Potter

While it can seem as though we reveal our identities and perspectives mostly through deliberate and noticeable actions, this is not often the case. Indeed, everyday subtle linguistic choices can provide us with important information about how we construct our worldviews and negotiate our interactions with others. This is particularly true of language in media, including novels – the words an author uses to describe a character’s actions may uncover deeper assumptions being drawn upon. Semantic prosody analysis, which looks at the positive or negative associations of phrases by studying the words they frequently co-occur with, can be useful in this regard. For example, while the adjectives “utter” and “sheer” may share the same literal definition – meaning absolute or complete – “utter” is more frequently used in a negative context (e.g. “utter despair”), while “sheer” is more frequently used in a positive one (e.g. “sheer laughter”). Overall, this paper is concerned with semantic prosody in Harry Potter character descriptions. The focus will be on the language surrounding spells – who uses which spells the most, and how the descriptions of their use vary by spellcaster. For instance, we will examine how and if the protection spell Expecto Patronum is linguistically “conjured” differently when performed by Harry, the heroic protagonist, than when performed by Dolores Umbridge, a villainous archetype. By looking at these collocations, our goal is to uncover the underlying value judgments associated with each character’s personality in Harry Potter, gaining a deeper understanding of how “good” and “evil” identities are constructed in the process.