Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts

By Carlota S. Smith | Go to book overview

7 Subjectivity in texts

In all Discourse Modes and genres, one finds passages that suggest a particular voice. They convey a sense of subjectivity, a point of view toward propositional information. "Point of view" is familiar as a literary term referring to presentation of the mind of a fictional character in narrative. More generally, point of view is "the perceptual or conceptual position in terms of which narrated situations and events are presented" (G. Prince 1987:73). Linguists now use the term for expressions of speech and thought, evidentiality, perspective, and other indications of an authorial or participant voice. "Point of view" is used almost interchangeably with "perspective" and "subjectivity." I shall use the latter term as more general. Subjectivity is conveyed by grammatical forms and lexical choices.1

Three traditions come together in the area of subjectivity. One is deixis and its linguistic expression. Deixis is a general term for the centrality of the here and now in language. The study of deixis takes as basic the canonical speech situation with Speaker and Addressee, and explores its linguistic ramifications. The second tradition involves evidentiality, indications of the source and reliability of information. Evidentiality is a relatively new term for the semantic field of attitude toward knowledge, a kind of modality. Linguistic resources for this vary strikingly across languages. Finally, subjectivity conveys the contents of mind and personal perspective; here linguistic study is complemented by a strong literary tradition. The area is a vast one and I intend this chapter as an introduction, by no means a complete account. I will give the grammatical underpinnings of subjectivity, the bare bones.

Subjectivity arises primarily in discourse contexts. It is expressed by grammatical forms at the sentence level: verbs and their complements, adverbials, tense, modals, aspectual viewpoint, anaphors. Often a subjective form has scope

1. Some of the material in this chapter was presented at a symposium at the University of Oslo in
December 2000: "Information Structure in a Cross-linguistic Perspective." I would like to thank
the audience for their questions and the discussion; I also thank Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen for
helpful comments.

-155-

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Modes of Discourse: The Local Structure of Texts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • I Discourse Structure 5
  • 1: The Study of Discourse 7
  • 2: Introduction to the Discourse Modes 22
  • 3: Text Representation and Understanding 49
  • II: Linguistic Analysis of the Discourse Modes 65
  • 4: Aspectual Information 67
  • 5: Temporal and Spatial Progression 92
  • 6: Referring Expressions in Discourse 123
  • III: Surface Presentational Factors 153
  • 7: Subjectivity in Texts 155
  • 8: The Contribution of Surface Presentation 185
  • 9: Non-Canonical Structures and Presentation 213
  • IV: Discourse Modes and Their Context 241
  • 10: Information in Text Passages 243
  • 11: Discourse Structure and Discourse Modes 258
  • Appendix A - The Texts 267
  • Appendix B - Glossary 286
  • References 294
  • General Index 314
  • Index of Names 318
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