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Cooperation in literary discourse: Dialogue and narrator’s discourse levels

As pointed out in the previous section the application of the Cooperative principle and its maxims works differently on particular discourse levels. Here I want to demonstrate the application of pragmatic principles on both dialogue and narrator’s discourse levels. Consider the following example:

(2) (DL: 105)

‘You always did say you would marry for money.’

‘Yes, I did. And I am. But I wouldn’t marry him if I didn’t feel like this about him.’

‘But do you feel like this about him because he is so eligible?’ enquired Joan, laughing.

‘Probably. But what’s the matter with that?’

‘Would you marry him if he was poor?’

The sisters were now leaning forward, faces close, laughing and full of enjoyment.

The dialogue illustrates a real-life conversation, it matches our experiences with the spoken discourse and thus we are able to apply pragmatic principles and maxims as usual. The fictional setting of the short story, the particular situation (the conversation takes place in an airport restaurant) and context (two sisters are spending time together, one of them has more than an hour to catch the flight so they are just chatting, enjoying being together) provided by the narrator substitutes for the natural immediate environment necessary for understanding and interpreting literary discourse. The application of the Cooperative principle and its maxims enables us to see the close relationship between the two sisters, their amusement and enjoyment from meeting each other. Both speakers abide with the Cooperative principle and its maxims, one of them “playing” the role of an older and a more responsible sister. The statement “You always did say you would marry for money.” is an indirect speech act, an implied question, which is being answered fully to provide as exact information as possible. The response indicated an attempt to abide with the maxim of quality. The hedge “probably” in the following answer indicates that the speaker respects the maxim of quality, she wants to respond truthfully, and at the same time she shows consideration and hesitance with the answer. When the older sister asks in a more direct way, the answer is not verbalized but we understand the implied meaning-the laughing means “no”. The narrator’s notes about their reactions (laughing, enjoyment, leaning towards each other, etc.) provide important and necessary clues, which enable the reader to work out implicatures. On the one hand, the questions imply a true interest in her sister’s happiness and also different opinions about an acceptable lifestyle. On the other hand, the way both sisters communicate, how they use humour and irony as a means of cooperation, shows their close relationship. It is the younger sister who speaks in a lighter tone and turns their conversation into pure enjoyment of the time spent together.

Considering the setting and situation in literary discourse, we have to acknowledge the importance of the reader’s ability to recognize shared background knowledge as well as the patterns of knowledge stored and preserved in our memory. The applicability of the frame theory is highly justified here: it enables us to see literary discourse understanding as a process of fitting what we are told into the framework established by what we already know. The notions of scripts, scenarios, and schemata allow for a relatively quick and allusive style. As observable in the abovediscussed example (2), they enable us to process language quickly. We focus on the verbal exchange because the setting and situation are familiar to us (we can imagine the airport restaurant, perhaps one we visited recently; we know the scenario of a sisters’ talk, etc.). In literary discourse, allusive style, ambiguous and figurative language are common, employed mainly by the narrator. The reader’s perception and understanding are dependent on the amount and nature of his or her shared background knowledge, recognized scripts, scenarios, and schemata. This implies a certain relevance to the Politeness principle as well: the narrator should provide as many details, pieces of information, as necessary. Providing more information than necessary or giving over specification, might be considered as non-cooperative and impolite (the reader feels underestimated in his capacity to perceive the message correctly).

This call for an “accurate” amount of information brings us back to the notion of literariness. Certainly, the Speech Act Theory and the Cooperative Principle were not designed to (and are not able to) answer the problem of literariness. However, they help us to understand the ways texts may be processed and how we can arrive at certain interpretations. The authors of literary texts can manipulate language in interesting ways, discovering and exemplifying the potential of language. This may be one of the main reasons why we find reading (more or less allusive and open) literary texts enjoyable and rewarding.

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