Thursday, 15 November 2012

Hearts may fall as well as rise

My Ji Qong teacher  – not a native speaker of English – was talking yesterday morning about some improvements she's having done to her kitchen. 'Now I can see out, and when I see the garden my heart sinks.'  From the context (we were exercising outside on a coldish and not particularly bright November morning) I knew that she meant the opposite; but what's that – 'my heart leaps'?

This made me think about collocations with heart. I did a search in the British National Corpus for 'heart' followed by a verb. Of the nearly 3,000 hits, 'heart sank' came a very respectable third, after 'was' and 'is'. With the addition of 'heart 's' at no. 11, these 3 account for over a fifth of all instances.

Meanwhile, 'heart leapt' was down at no. 17 and 'heart leaped' well below that at no. 31. And closer inspection of those numbers yielded an interesting bias. Of the 30 instances of 'leapt', 25 had the source 'W_fict_prose'; and of the 15 instances of  'leaped' 12 had the same source. And of those 37 'W_fict_prose' hits, in 29 cases (over three-quarters) the possessor of the heart is a woman. Now I don't know precisely what 'W_fict_prose' is, but perhaps I could be forgiven for guessing that the jackets are predominantly pink.

But what about the other verbs? Looking at just the top 51 (all the collocations with 10 or more hits) there are these indications of a dysfunctional or uneasy heart:
  • thumping – no. 8
  • thudding – no. 10
  • attacks – no. 13 (the mesh of my search net should obviously be finer; hearts don't attack!)
  • stopped – no. 14
  • racing – no. 18
  • lurched – no. 20
  • pounding – no. 22
  • hammering – no. 25
  • missed – no. 26
  • thudded  – no. 28
  • jumped – no. 29
  • bypass – no.40 (another anomaly that shows how I need to brush up my search skills)
  • bleeds – no. 41
  • ached – no. 43
  • sink – no. 45
  • sinking – no. 49
  • skipped – no. 50
  • stop – no. 51 (an appropriate end to the list)
Meanwhile there are a similar number of 'unmarked' ones (with connotations that are neither positive not negative) like turn and seem; and just a handful of unequivocally positive ones: just leap, to accompany the past forms. English hearts just don't seem to have a particularly positive outlook.; swell and swelled are down at nos. 67 and 99 respectively. I wonder if this is a particularly Anglophone bias. I invite comments from speakers of other languages.

I should really see how COCA compares. But times a-wasting and I've got a long weekend (when I'll be off-line) to prepare for.

Update 2014.02.08.20:20 – Updated footer

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

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** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.


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