Narrative and narrative structure, Abstract

This chapter uses Form and Function as the two crucial perspectives from which to characterise a range of naturally-occurring verbal or predominantly verbal narratives. Verbal narratives can be regarded as a distinct text-type with no more than a couple of necessary conditions (situation projection, and reported change) together with some typical conditions (e.g., a human protagonist, and subjective evaluation). These I will outline chiefly making reference to the work of American sociolinguists (Labov in particular), and attending closely to English linguistic forms. The functions of narratives are immensely varied. On occasion they are valued for their mnemonic and encapsulatory qualities. But most frequently, as reports of personal experience, they have a performative function that is bound up with some aspect of the identity of the teller, or the subjectmatter, or the addressee (or some combination of these). Just one personal reminiscence (relatively spontaneously volunteered) will be discussed in detail, highlighting its rich complexity of design, and formal and functional fitness for the teller’s purposes.

Keywords: evaluation, tellability, sequence, identity, performance


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