n Literator : Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies - Conversation, characterisation and corpus linguistics : dialogue in Jane Austen's : research article

Volume 23, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-2279
  • E-ISSN: 2219-8237



Conversation, characterisation and corpus linguistics : dialogue in JaneAusten's Sense and Sensibility

This article reports on a corpus-based exploration of the role that fictionaldialogue plays in characterisation. The focus is on the two main charactersof Austen's Sense and Sensibility and (a) the extent to which certainfeatures of their dialogue can be said to tie in with general perceptions thatElinor represents the "sense" and Marianne the "sensibility" of the novel'stitle; and (b) the extent to which Austen can be said to have exploited thesefeatures to enable the sisters to speak with subtly differing voices. Thefeatures themselves were drawn from two linguistic frameworks, namelycohesion in text linguistics (specifically, the category of conjunctivecohesion as originated by Halliday and Hasan (1976)), and the category of"involvement" in register analysis (most prominently, Biber 1988). Thedensity of these features in each dialogue was calculated, comparedstatistically and salient differences considered in relation to the focal issuesof the study. Although two of the five hypotheses formulated were not supported,the results overall provided strong indications that Austen successfullydistinguishes between the sisters through their dialogue, and often inways that link with less subtle, more explicit cues to their character that aregiven in the text. The study thus reveals how certain text-linguistic andregister features can underpin characterisation in fiction, and in so doingexplicates aspects of what it is that readers and literary critics respond towhen they comment on characterisation in a novel.

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