Genres, Text Types, or Discourse Modes? Narrative Modalities and Generic Categorization

By Fludernik, Monika | Style, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Genres, Text Types, or Discourse Modes? Narrative Modalities and Generic Categorization


Fludernik, Monika, Style


In Coming to Terms (1990), Seymour Chatman initiated an enquiry into the delimitation of the narrative text type as against the text types of argument and description. This revolutionary step was a major landmark for literary scholars; linguists, by contrast, had been battling with the same problems for two decades, trying to distinguish between, on the one hand, the larger text types that are constitutive of our understanding of narrative versus expository or exhortative discourse (in oral or written formats), and, on the other hand, the surface textual sequences of report, dialogue, argument, descriptipn, and so on. In narrative studies, too, there arose some recognition that a narrative text does not exclusively consist in narrative sentences but includes a large number of supposedly nonnarrative items (the speech and thought representation of the characters, for instance) as well as metanarrative features (e.g., the narrator's evaluation, reader address) and some strictly speaking nonnarrative elements, s uch as description, that are, however, constitutive of how most narratives handle the setting. All of these supposedly nonnarrative elements are basic ingredients of any narrative surface structure. From the classic definition of narrative as a "mixed" genre (combining mimesis and diegesis) to Helmut Bonheim's The Narrative Modes (1982), which analyses narrative texts as sequences of report, speech, description, and comment, narratologists and literary scholars have been keenly aware of the fact that novels or short stories or even historical works are not uniformly "narrative." Not every sentence in a narrative text, that is, qualifies as "narrative" by the standards of narratological narrativity. It was Chatman's unique achievement to focus on this impurity of the narrative surface structure with renewed critical attention and to tackle the problem in a manner anticipated by text linguistics.

I would like to return to the problem of narrative's variegated textual surface structure, picking up where I left this issue of generic classification and text types in Towards a 'Natural' Narratology (1996). In a very brief section of chapter 8 of that book (section 8.4, esp. 356-58), I had proposed a revision and extension of Chatman's triad which I modelled on textlinguistic work found in Longacre's The Grammar of Discourse. I would now like to expand this proposal even further, linking it more comprehensively with the structure of natural narratology. In particular, I wish to discuss some of the theoretical implications of a text-type approach to the definition of narrative. I will start by introducing a few models from text linguistics, especially the model of Virtanen and Warvik with which I was not familiar when writing Towards a 'Natural' Narratology.

1. Text Types

Linguists have realized for some time that textual surface structures display a wide spectrum of forms that vary with the respective type of discourse. Since text linguistics, unlike literary scholarship, does not focus primarily on literary or even on written texts, linguists have had to develop a great number of concepts to account for variety in language use (register e.g.) or for the use of language in specific situations (e.g. telephone conversations; natural narrative; doctor-patient discourse; instruction manuals; cookbooks, etc.). The term "text type" in text linguistics refers to a number of quite distinct phenomena on a variety of different levels. In "Text-Type as a Linguistic Unit," for instance, Esser defines text type as "language variation according to use as opposed to variation according to user" (142). [1] He distinguishes between extensional definitions (text types as genres); definitions based on external criteria of production; on structurally defined schemata or superstructures (cf. van Dijk); and definitions deriving from "abstracted corpus norms" established by means of statistical analysis (e.g., in the work of Biber). …

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