Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

There and back again: Discourse and pragmatic strategies for describing spatial locations in narrative fiction
by Perkins, Marla Beth, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2009, 353; 3372223
Abstract (Summary)

In this report, I critique discourse psychologists’ dismissal of spatial information in narrative based on their use of short texts that violate conversational implicatures (Grice). I proceed to follow linguists’ work (particularly Deictic Center Theory and Talmy’s analyses) that shows the importance of that information to fictional narratives. Combining linguistic insights with Golledge’s taxonomy of spatial elements, expanded to include verticality, and Norman’s theories of usability to connect Grice’s work to narrative fiction, I then review the logical possibilities of spatial elements, providing examples of each. The analysis of the corpus progresses from the logical possibilities, using those possibilities to analyze horizontality in Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, verticality in Ruff’s Fool on the Hill, and the combination of horizontality and verticality into a cognitive model of the three-dimensional spaces described in Orwell’s Burmese Days. Major insights gained include the following: (a) there are generalized implicatures about narrative spaces, such as that nominal location designators are point-like and the vertical dimension is line-like, which can be defeated or adjusted as necessary for the texts in which they occur, as with other implicatures; (b) there are also implicatures about narrative spaces that are developed through the spatial descriptions in narratives; (c) there are three main strategies for developing spatial information in narratives: describing a space directly, describing characters’ perspectives of a space, and describing characters’ travels in a space; (d) authors who follow these strategies construct spatial descriptions in narratives that allow an ideal reader to understand and reason about the space in narratives in ways that facilitate overall comprehension of narratives, whereas those authors who do not follow these strategies construct spatial descriptions that are inadequate in a variety of ways, including not giving readers enough information to make relevant, spatial implicatures, giving readers so much information that reasoning correctly is impossible or nearly impossible, or providing information that is so indeterminate as not to contribute to the text or narrative as a whole, thus leading readers to conclude that the spatial information is not important enough to try to understand.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zubin, David
Commitee: Bohnemeyer, Juergen, Mark, David, Rapaport, William
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Cognitive psychology, Rhetoric
Keywords: Analysis, Cognitive, Discourse, Narrative, Narrative fiction, Pragmatics, Semantics, Spatial locations
Publication Number: 3372223
ISBN: 978-1-109-34892-7
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