Deixis in Short Fiction: The Contribution of Deictic Shift Theory to Reader Experience of Literary Fiction
Erwin M. Segal
This chapter reports on a research program undertaken by my colleagues and me in an attempt to identify some of the cognitive structures and processes that underlie narrative comprehension and interpretation. 1 Our goal is to be able to specify the processes of narrative comprehension well enough, not only to characterize what a reader does as he or she reads a fictional text, but also to be able to simulate as much of it as possible on a computer. This goal forces us to examine details of the text to be read and what readers do when they read that text. The topic is a vast one, and we have far to go, but we have a style of research and an outline of a theory to share.
Our research program began by our trying to understand the psychological processes involved in following spatial and temporal movement in narrative text, and how the text guides these processes. This research has led us to develop the Deictic Shift Theory of narrative comprehension which has shaped much of our ensuing research. This theory seems to have components that support both experiential and computational approaches to understanding narrative. We think that we have an approach to narrative comprehension and interpretation that, even if it fails, will teach us a great deal about narrative and the human response to narrative.
We believe one of the reasons we have made as much progress as we have is that we have a working interdisciplinary Cognitive Science research group. One advantage of working in a research group such as ours is that we have lively interaction among members who regularly interact on a common problem and can bring information sources and methods of various disciplines to bear on it. Each discipline informs the research of the others. In our group we do conceptual and linguistic analyses of narrative and other texts; study production and comprehension of children and language-disturbed adults; run psychological experiments evaluating comprehension and production in normal