Pragmatic Implicature and the novel seminar

Wednesday 16 November, 4.15pm – 5.45pm
Room 312, Wells Street, University of Westminster, London W1T

‘Pragmatic Implicature and the novel’
Ruth Schuldiner, University of Oxford

This paper will discuss the sustained use of implicature to communicate central, unambiguous elements of plot in fiction novels; specifically, it will look at instances in which a reader’s understanding of an implicitly communicated event is integral to their understanding of the remainder of the narrative.  It is proposed that, in third-person narratives, a perceived context of fictionality is depended upon for the construction of some of these implicatures: many of them exploit the perceived omniscience of the narrator, and by extension the fictionality of the text.  This conclusion feeds into a broader argument concerning the possible differences associated with reading fictional vs. nonfictional texts, or how an assumed context of either fictionality or nonfictionality affects readers’ interpretations of individual utterances and the coherence of narratives as a whole.  When an author chooses to communicate central narrative information through implicature, the reader is faced with the important puzzle of why an omniscient persona would opt for an inarticulate mode of communication.  It is this implicitly posed question that emphasizes the relevance of the implicatures to their context, dispersing the ambiguity of superficial ellipses.  The paper discusses excerpts from M.E. Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret to evidence the argument.

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