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Sunday, May 02, 2010

story episode: a meta scenario or register?

I am beginning to wonder if labeling “story episode” as a sort of high level meta scenario may be mixing metaphors. In addressing the structure of texts which contain stories, direct speech, indirect speech, poetry and non-narrative prose, it seems reasonable that a story episode would have a set of language-cultural specific criteria which could be understood as a set of assumptions and expectations about how a story will be told. Going back to the participle clause opening a new story episode which provides a situational (time, location, setting) frame for the story where the frame isn’t tightly bound semantically to the following episode (see previous post on Mk 5:1-2), the participle clause could be understood as a slot filler in a prototypical story episode frame, even though it doesn’t fill a slot in the scenario that is contained within that frame.

I had suggested that we view this under a different metaphor, a package with a wrapper. The story episode is the whole package, the wrapper is a container for the story scenario, but not a part of the story itself. A story episode “wrapper” might better fit in M.A.K Halliday’s[1] notion of register explained here by Liu Zequan[1].

For Halliday, register is "the clustering of semantic features according to situation type," and "can be defined as a configuration of semantic resources that the member of a culture typically associates with a situation type" (Halliday, 1978:111). Seen this way, "the notion of register is at once very simple and very powerful" and "provides a means of investigating the linguistic foundations of everyday social interaction from an angle that is complementary to the ethnomethodological one" (ibid.:31, 62). The theory of register thus derived "attempts to uncover the general principles which govern" how "the language we speak or write varies according to the type of situation" (ibid.:32). For Halliday, the central problem in text linguistics lies in how "the 'register' concept can take account of the processes which link the features of the text" "to the abstract categories of the speech situation" (ibid.:62). He warns linguists against "posing the wrong question" of "what features of language are determined by register?" (ibid.:32) in the process of seeking such a link. He tells us that we should instead seek for the factors that determine the selection of language (ibid.).

A problem I have with Halliday’s “register”[2] is vagueness. It seems to cover a lot territory and for that reason is somewhat hard to determine what is what is not included. Added to that is the difficulties of jumping back and forth between different schools of textlinguistics. Perhaps I will have more to say on this later.

[1] Liu Zequan (刘泽权) National University of Singapore
Register Analysisas a Tool for Translation Quality Assessment This is a revised version of the paper under the same title which was presented at The International Conference on Discourse and Translation held at Sun Yet-san University, Guangzhou, China from 24-26 July 2002

[2] M.A.K. Halliday 1967. "Notes on transitivity and theme in English," Journal of Linguistics, No. 3, Part 1: 37-81, Part 2: 199-244. (London, 1967)

M.A.K. Halliday 1978. Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold. 

M.A.K. Halliday 1994. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd Edition. London: Edward Arnold.

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