AN ANALYSIS OF ADJECTIVES USED IN SUICIDE NOTES IN TERMS OF POSITIVITY/NEGATIVITY/NEUTRALITY
One of the fields of macrolinguistics, forensic linguistics, is a recent and rapidly growing area of modern applied linguistics according to Gerald McMenamin. He (2002: 67) makes the definition of forensic linguistics as the scientific study of language as applied to forensic purposes and contexts. Another definition of the term forensic linguistics is brought by John Olsson (2008: 3) as the application of linguistics to legal questions and issues. So it can also be defined as the application of linguistic expertise to legal, judicial and criminal contexts.
Eva T. S. Sudjana and Nurul Fitri (2013) state that “Aspects of linguistics plays important role when it deals with legal texts such as suicide note.” (p.219). So with the help of Linguistics so many inferences can be taken form many texts. Forensic linguists deal with so many forensic text types (emergency calls, ransom demands and other threat texts, call center frauds, final death row statements, etc.) one of which is suicide notes. A suicide note is a text written by a person before committing suicide. In this study the suicide notes are handled. The adjectives used in the suicide notes are taken into consideration and they are analyzed in terms of positivity, negativity and neutrality. It is assumed that a suicide note consists of wholly or mostly negative work and it is prepared in a negative mood. This study tries its best to analyze whether this conception is true or false.
In order to analyze the suicide notes, forensic linguistics needs another linguistic field or fields to support the analysis, such as phonology, semantics, morphology pragmatics, syntax, discourse analysis etc. In this study the fields of semantics and pragmatics are made use of, because this study analyzes the adjectives semantically and for some of them pragmatics is needed, because the adjectives are not used in their dictionary meaning.
One of the micro fields of linguistics, semantics, study the meaning of words, phrases, sentences and ambiguities in texts. Forensic semantics study the meaning of words, phrases, sentences and ambiguities in criminal texts. McMenamin (2002:92) states “primary areas of research in forensic semantics are the interpretation of words, phrases, sentence, texts, ambiguity in text and laws, and interpretation of meaning in spoken discourse”.
Pragmatics also study the meaning of words, phrases, sentences and ambiguities in texts, but the main aim of pragmatics is that it studies the deeper meaning of words, phrases or sentences, it studies the implied meaning. In short, it can be said pragmatics deals with the meanings of texts that semantics cannot explain. In the suicide notes, there are adjectives that are used for the opposite meaning that is they are used metaphorically. So by means of pragmatics metaphorically used adjectives are analyzed. They are neither excluded, nor taken with their dictionary meanings, which would take the study in a wrong direction.
2.REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Eva T. S. Sudjana and Nurul Fitri carried out a practically similar study on 4th December, 2013, named “Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Note Case: Forensic Linguistic Profiling Analysis”. In the study Kurt Cobain’s suicide note is analyzed in terms of genuineness of and also to figure out the motives of the subject related to suicide. Furthermore, the research tends to make the authorship profiling of Kurt Cobain based on the lexical items which contain negative meaning that are related to his psychology.
The work of Sudjana and Fitri is limited to only one suicide note, the suicide note of Kurt Cobain, however this study is based on a corpus consisted of ten suicide notes. In this study, only adjectives are taken into consideration in terms of positivity, negativity and neutrality, in a corpus based on suicide notes. It is expected to find out whether there are mostly positive or negative adjectives or neutrals.
What types of adjectives are used in suicide notes in terms of positivity/negativity/neutrality?
What type of mood do these adjectives reflect?
10 suicide notes of mostly well-known people are selected. Adjectives used in the notes are classified as positive, negative and neutral adjectives. The adjectives are taken and then they are classified into 3 groups. Positive adjectives will be in one of the groups, negative adjectives will be in the other and the neutral ones are in the other group. After it is started to analyze the case, it is realized that there are also neutral adjectives, so because of this a third group, neutral adjectives are also taken. The number of the adjectives is taken into consideration in that which group has more adjectives and from the positive, negative and neutral adjectives the mood of the people before committing suicide is expected to be revealed, in terms of their adjective choice and usage.
This study is limited to adjectives in terms of positivity, negativity and neutrality. Another study can be carried out with the nouns or another part of speech. Because it is seen that both positive and negative nouns are also found in the suicide notes. For example; at the end of his note Kurt Cobain wrote “Peace, love, empathy.” which are nouns having positive meanings, in a suicide note.
Here, the adjectives are shown colorful in order to be selected easily; the red ones are negative adjectives, the green ones are positive adjectives and the blue ones are neutral adjectives.
Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) was an American musician and artist. He writes his suicide note to his imaginary friend, from his childhood, Boddah, who Cobain thinks is a perfect human.
Kurt Cobain Suicide Note
Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complain-ee. This note should be pretty easy to understand.
All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years, since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guity beyond words about these things.
For example when we’re back stage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins., it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the the love and adoration from the crowd which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it’s not enough). I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. It must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child.
On our last 3 tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man. Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know!
I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.
I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along that have empathy. Only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess.
Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
Peace, love, empathy. Kurt Cobain
Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your alter. Please keep going Courtney, for Frances. For her life, which will be so much happier without me.
I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!
Kurt Cobain used totally 51 adjectives; 26 of them are negative, 17 positive and 8 neutral. The percentages are shown below. Here, the adjectives classified as positive, negative or neutral, according to their context meanings, so most of the time pragmatics is made use of.
Kurt Cobain used in his suicide note;
50.98% negative adjectives
33.33% positive adjectives
15.68% neutral adjectives
(20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the Nazi Party. Early on the morning on April 29, 1945, to avoid capture by the Red Army, Hitler hastily dictated his last will to his secretary, Frau Traudl Junge and he wanted his corpse to be burned in order not to be detected and then he killed himself.
The Last Will
As I did not consider that I could take responsibility, during the years of struggle, of contracting a marriage, I have now decided, before the closing of my earthly career, to take as my wife that girl who, after many years of faithful friendship, entered, of her own free will, the practically besieged town in order to share her destiny with me. At her own desire she goes as my wife with me into death. It will compensate us for what we both lost through my work in the service of my people.
What I possess belongs – in so far as it has any value – to the Party. Should this no longer exist, to the State; should the State also be destroyed, no further decision of mine is necessary.
My pictures, in the collections which I have bought in the course of years, have never been collected for private purposes, but only for the extension of a gallery in my home town of Linz on Donau.
It is my most sincere wish that this bequest may be duly executed.
I nominate as my Executor my most faithful Party comrade, Martin Bormann. He is given full legal authority to make all decisions. He is permitted to take out everything that has a sentimental value or is necessary for the maintenance of a modest simple life, for my brothers and sisters, also above all for the mother of my wife and my faithful co-workers who are well known to him, principally my old Secretaries Frau Winter etc. who have for many years aided me by their work.
I myself and my wife – in order to escape the disgrace of deposition or capitulation – choose death. It is our wish to be burnt immediately on the spot where I have carried out the greatest part of my daily work in the course of a twelve years’ service to my people.
Given in Berlin, 29th April 1945, 4:00 a.m.
Signed as witnesses:
Dr. Joseph Goebbels
Colonel Nicholaus von Below
Hitler used totally 22 adjectives; 18 of them are positive, 4 of them are neutral but there is no negative adjective.
Adolf Hitler used in his suicide note;
81.81% positive adjectives
18.18% neutral adjectives
0% negative adjectives
Taken from “The Telegraph” 5:55PM GMT 25 Mar 2014
The suicide notes left by the British teenager and her American boyfriend, who gunned down a police officer before killing themselves have been released.
Alexandria Hollinghurst, 17, wrote three notes to her mother, Debra, her father Tom and her younger sister.
I could write to you for days, but I know nothing would actually make a difference to you. You are much too ignorant and self concerned to even attempt to listen or understand, everyone knows that.
Thank you, for trying to talk and understand me. After me being honest, after trying to fix things, thank you for turning a conversation about depression and suicide into something and about you
Please understand that when people compare us, I vomit on the inside.
And thank you for accusing me of being annorexic, FOR YEARS. I’m so …………. sorry FOR being skinny. If I were, your BITCHY comments that I’m assuming were your attempt to help, wouldn’t have.
If I had stayed another minute I would have painted the walls and stained the carpets with my blood, so you could clean it up
You are a waste of space, ignorant and a rotten ………. I WISH I WERE NEVER BORN.
I’m sorry I continue to dissapoint (sic) you. I’m sorry I’ve changed. I wish we could rewind. I love you to death but I just couldn’t do it anymore. Everyday became harder and harder. I know you can’t understand, and I don’t expect you to. And I don’t know what to tell you other than I really am sorry, but I know you won’t believe me. I’m SORRY.
Dear ……, (her sister)
I need you to know that you’ve always been my favourite, my number one. You’re so much younger, but you’re a better person than me, you always have been. I hope you never take a wrong turn like I did. I hope you continue to grow. I hope you overcome the unsecurity and I hope you realise that you are ever so beautiful. I love you.
Alexandria Hollinghurst used totally 20 adjectives; 14 of them are negative, 5 positive and 1 neutral.
Alexandria Hollinghurst used in her suicide note;
70% negative adjectives
25% positive adjectives
5% neutral adjectives
6.4.John Simon Ritchie – Sid Vicious
John Simon Ritchie (10 May 1957 – 2 February 1979), was an English bass guitarist and vocalist most famous as a member of the influential punk group the Sex Pistols. He was using drugs and when his girlfriend was killed, the police suspected from him. He rejected this acquisition, but because of drug use he was also suspicious of himself and after a month of his girlfriend’s death, he committed suicide.
We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye.
John Simon Ritchie used totally 4 adjectives; 3 of them are neutral and 1 is negative, there is no positive adjective.
John Simon Ritchie used in his suicide note;
75% neutral adjectives
25% negative adjectives
0% positive adjectives
(25 February 2003 – 24 February 2008). He was the 9th President of South Korea.
I am in debt to so many people. I have caused too great a burden to be placed upon them. I can’t begin to fathom the countless agonies down the road. The rest of my life would only be a burden for others. I am unable to do anything because of poor health. Do not be too sad. Isn’t life and death all a part of nature? Do not be sorry. Do not feel resentment toward anyone. It is fate. Cremate me. And leave only a small tombstone near home. I’ve thought on this for a long time.
Roh Moo-Hyun used totally 9 adjectives; 7 of them are negative, 1 is positive and 1 is neutral.
Roh Moo-Hyun used in his suicide note;
77.77% negative adjectives
11.11% positive adjectives
11.11% neutral adjectives
6.6.Peter William Ham
Peter William Ham (27 April 1947 – 24 April 1975) was a Welsh singer, songwriter and guitarist, primarily recognized for having been the lead singer/composer of the ’70s rock group Badfinger‘s hit songs. He addresses in his suicide note to his girlfriend Anne and her daughter from her former marriage Blair, and also to Stan Polley who swindled him, after Peter bought a house and because of this Peter had financial problems.
Anne, I love you. Blair, I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.
Peter William Ham used only 2 adjectives; 1 is positive and 1 is negative.
Peter William Ham used in his suicide note;
50% positive adjectives
50% negative adjectives
0% neutral adjectives
6.7.Per Yngve Ohlin – Mayhem
Per Yngve Ohlin (16 January 1969 – 8 April 1991), better known by his stage name Dead, was a Swedish black/death metal vocalist and lyricist best known for his work with Norwegian black metal band Mayhem.
Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I’m not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood was coagulating all the time, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don’t succeed dying to the knife I will blow all the shit out of my skull. Yet I do not know. I left all my lyrics by “Let the good times roll”—plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the fucking thing. As a last salutation may I present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever you want with the fucking thing. / Pelle.
I didn’t come up with this now, but seventeen years ago.
Per Yngve Ohlin used totally 10 adjectives; 4 of them are negative, 4 neutral and 2 positive.
Per Yngve Ohlin used in his suicide note;
40% negative adjectives
40% neutral adjectives
20% positive adjectives
6.8.Hunter Stockton Thompson
Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937 – 2005) was an American journalist and author.
No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.
Hunter Stockton Thompson used in his suicide note;
13.33% positive adjectives
53.33% negative adjectives
33.33% neutral adjectives
I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.
Clara Blandick used totally 3 adjectives; 1 positive and 2 negatives, there is no neutral adjective.
Clara Blandick used in her suicide note;
33.33% positive adjectives
66.66% negative adjectives
0% neutral adjectives
Christine Chubbuck (August 24, 1944 – July 15, 1974) was an American television news reporter who worked for WTOG-TV and WXLT-TV in Florida during her career. She is noted for committing suicide during a live television broadcast.
In keeping with Channel 40′s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first: an attempted suicide.
Christine Chubbuck used 4 adjectives; 2 of them are positive, 1 is negative and 1 is neutral.
Christine Chubbuck used in her suicide note;
50% positive adjectives
25% negative adjectives
25% neutral adjectives
Kurt Cobain used mostly negative adjectives (26), but it can be interpreted as positive (17) and even the neutral ones (8) are not so few. Using mostly negative adjectives shows a negative mood, but he also addresses positive parts of his life, using positive adjectives.
Adolf Hitler used relatively few adjectives for such a long suicide note when compared to the suicide note of Kurt Cobain. Because of this, percentages of the adjectives used in the suicide notes are taken into consideration. Hitler used mostly positive adjectives in his suicide note and there is no negative adjective, which can be thought as an unlikely situation. So in can be said that he mostly addresses to positive things in his life and he does not feel sorry for what he did and because of his suicide. He is determined to commit suicide and there is no sign of regret or remorse.
Alexandria Hollinghurst used most of her negative adjectives for her mother and her father. It is seen from her notes that she does not like her mother at all, so she accuses her mother, using negative adjectives. But for her father, she is mostly apologetic; she always says “I’m sorry.” She uses most of her positive adjectives for her sister. She loves her sister and for her sister also she feels sorry.
John Simon Ritchie uses mostly neutral adjectives and he is the only one using mostly neutral adjectives, in this study. Using mostly neutral adjectives can be explained as he does not show his emotions. He says “burry me in my leather jacket and motorcycle boots” in his suicide note. So he cares about nothing and he is an easy going person, showing no emotion.
Roh Moo- Hyun uses mostly negative adjectives, 7 out of 9. He feels sorry, remembers the negative parts of his life.
Per Yvenge Ohlin uses the same number of negative and neutral adjective (4), and 2 positive adjectives. He wrote a relatively long suicide note, but even though he used few adjectives and most of them are negative and neutral. It can be concluded that he is both in a negative mood and an easy going person like John Simon Ritchie. He does not so much emotion, when he does he shows a negative mood.
Hunter Stockton Thompson used mostly negative adjectives, 8 out of 15. He used so many adjectives for such a short suicide note. He shows emotion and it is mostly negative. But he used 5 neutral adjectives and this is the one third of all the adjectives. These neutral adjectives are the numbers that he refers to his age.
Clara Blandick used few adjectives; 2 negatives and 1 positive and she wrote shortly. She is unhappy because of her illness and she wants to end her pain by committing suicide. She refers to her illness with negative adjectives and refers to the positive thing that she will get rid of her pain, with a positive adjective.
Christine Chubbuck 2 negative, 1 positive and 1 neutral adjective. She is mostly in a negative mood, but she also refers to a positive thing and shows an emotionless mood with a neutral adjectives. So it can be said that her mood is a little bit mixed, as seen in the analysis.
The average of the adjectives in all of the suicide notes, used in the study can be shown as;
Positive adjectives 31.79%,
Negative adjectives 45.77%
Neutral adjectives 22.42%
As the study shows that, negative adjectives are the majority with 45%. But positive ones are not so few with 31%, as with the neutral ones 22%. There is not a big difference among the percentages. So it can be concluded that, in suicide notes mostly negative adjectives may be used, but positive ones and the neutral ones are also so many. Even when looked at the suicide notes individually, positive or neutral adjectives can be the majority. All in all, the suicide notes are wholly composed of negatives adjectives. Positive and even neutral adjectives are also used and their number is not so few.
8.1. Slide Presentation Of This Works
McMenamin, G.R. (2002). Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics. New York: CRC Press.
Olsson, J. (2008). Forensic Linguistics. London: Continuum.
Sudjana Eva T. S., Fitri N. (2013). Kurt Cobain’s Suicide Note Case: Forensic Linguistic Profiling Analysis. International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, (6), 217-227