Advances in Written Text Analysis

By Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

10

Frames of reference: contextual monitoring and the interpretation of narrative discourse

Catherine Emmott


INTRODUCTION: TEXT-SPECIFIC MENTAL STRUCTURES

This chapter argues that there are features of narrative discourse that cannot be accounted for without cognitive modelling. Cognitive modelling requires us to postulate mental stores of information. These mental structures enable a reader of narrative to interpret pronouns and other pro-forms which lack recent antecedents. Mental structures also help the reader to construct a fictional world and to process narrative flashback.

Mental structures are of various kinds. A distinction can be drawn between general knowledge mental structures and text-specific mental structures. A general knowledge structure (or ‘schema’ (Bartlett 1932)) consists of information which we bring to a text. A text-specific mental structure, by contrast, is built up of information that comes from the particular text we are reading and for this reason should be of particular interest to discourse analysts.

Much work has already been done on general knowledge structures (e.g. Minsky 1977; Schank and Abelson 1977). One often quoted example is the ‘restaurant script’ (Schank and Abelson 1977). This accounts, amongst other things, for our expectation that when we enter a restaurant a waiter or waitress will come to give us the menu and take our order and that we will have to pay for our meal before we leave. Such schemata are necessary in theories of both reality processing and text processing. Another type of general knowledge structure is the story schema (e.g. Rumelhart 1975; Mandler and Johnson 1977; Thorndyke 1977). Story schemata account for our expectations about narrative text in general, such as our awareness of the typical structure of a fairy story.

Interest in text-specific mental structures is more recent. One such mental structure is the character construct. 1 This is an information store which we build for any one character in a story from explicit statements in the text about that character or from inferences drawn from these statements (Brown and Yule 1983; Emmott 1989). Likewise, all the information that we have accumulated about any one fictional place can be stored in what may be termed a location construct (Emmott 1989). Another and very different type

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