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Analysing literary text as discourse

The approach of pragmatic stylistics can help us to understand all kinds of inferences involved in interpreting texts. This assumes the viewing of literary text as discourse in which particular messages are to be negotiated in the process of cooperation between the author and the reader accounting for the immediate context of situation. As illustrated by the analysed examples, the absence of a natural immediate environment (necessary for working out implicatures) can be overcome by acknowledging fictional settings, situations and contexts provided by the narrator-author of literary text. A pragmatic stylistic analysis of such compassionate and sharp-eyed stories and sketches as presented by Doris

Lessing’s London Observed (1993) quite naturally includes considerations of the recipient’s competence-his or her readiness to fully understand culture-specific messages and perceive a series of pictures of London. In this section, my aim is to demonstrate that the application of pragmatic principles and their maxims in the analysis of literary discourse can be highly beneficial to the reader. Example (5) presents a message written on one of the blackboards the Underground’s staff uses to communicate their thoughts to passengers:

(5) (DL: 87)

You are probably wondering why the escalators so often aren’t working?

We shall tell you! It is because they are old and often go out of order.

Sorry! Have a good day!

The discourse of this message illustrates the principles of cooperation and politeness at work: the author of the message abides by the principle of cooperation and respects the Quality maxim-he is telling the truth and in the first sentence he uses a hedge to indicate he might be wrong. He also respects the Quantity maxim and he is relevant in speech. The Manner maxim can be considered within the concept of relevance and here the point of view of the recipient is important. From the narrator’s point of view, the Manner maxim holds properly-we are sorry but we can do nothing about the problem. From the point of view of the recipient, this is not a relevant explanation-I want to use escalators, I pay my ticket, and I want to have it working when rushing to work. This discussion highlights the importance of the outlined framework of the discourse, as well as of the context and situation provided by the narrator of the short story. The principle of politeness is also applicable: the message employs expressions commonly regarded as polite, such as “shall”, “sorry”, etc., and polite speech acts, such as wishing a good day. However, considering the context of the given discourse, these elements imply humour and irony. As a reader, I may find it humorous that someone who is responsible for the situation uses accusation as a form of apology. An actual real-life recipient of the message, i.e. the underground passenger, would probably perceive it as ironic and impolite, and even face threatening. The example illustrates that humour often overlaps with irony. Unlike humour, irony does not always create laughter. It can be appreciated by recipients if they share the same point of view. Example (2) discussed above shows that the recipients who share the same point of view can perceive humour and even appreciate irony. The sisters were flattered, entertained and amused because the irony used by the older sister was kind and did not develop into sarcasm. In other words, her questions did not cause offence and remained as what is usually called friendly mocking (cf. Leech 1983).

 
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