The repeated confirmation of the hypothesis of a negativity bias in cognitive psychology invited an assumption that the general asymmetry in the automatic processing of affective information should bear linguistic consequences, for language is inseparable from human cognition and emotion. This paper shows that the lexical semantics of emotive intensifiers in German, English and Chinese can be best explained in a cognitive-affective model of negativity bias. The parallel between a higher sensitivity to potentially threatening events at the neural level and the predominance of emotive intensifiers based on threat-relevant negative emotions at the linguistic level provides further evidence of the embodiment of linguistic conceptualisation. Ultimately, because the negativity bias is a vital component of our adaptive behaviour, the corresponding linguistic behaviour must be viewed as part of our dynamic system of adaptation.
© Walter de Gruyter