Building a narrative text-world through deixis and modality
: A contrastive study of Spanish and English

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research aims to uncover the various means available to Spanish and English speakers in taking spatio-temporal, personal and modal perspective in spoken narratives. It is hoped that the results will reveal the languages’ preferred narrative styles in terms of how they use deixis and modality to build a narrative ‘text-world’. TextWorld Theory (Werth 1999; Gavins 2007) is both a theory and a method of discourse analysis, which posits that language users jointly build a mental representation of the discourse as it unfolds. This mental representation is the ‘text-world’, and is continually updated with incremented information. ‘World-switches’ are made using changes in the spatio-temporal or personal coordinates. Information that is not immediately verifiable by all discourse participants, such as that introduced by modal expressions, is not included within the text-world, but in modal worlds. Thus, it is an ideal framework for diagramming and analysing deictic and modal choices; here, it is adapted for application to the Spanish language, and refined and developed in the process. Being a relatively new model in the Cognitive Stylistic analytic toolkit, as well as an ambitious and unwieldy one, its application to many texts (in more than one language) will allow for vast improvements gleaned through exposure to data. Furthermore, diagramming software (VISL) is employed to try to standardise and improve the method and all the diagrammed narratives are available in an interactive format on the enclosed CD-ROM. In order to overcome the difficulty of finding a common ground from which to compare two languages’ narrative styles, the ‘frog story’ methodology is employed (Berman & Slobin 1994). This involves using a wordless picture book as a stimulus and asking native adult speakers of the languages in question to narrate the story based on the pictorial stimulus. Therefore, while the story remains the same, the narrators are free to build the text-world using the deictic and modal choices that their language makes available. By controlling the variable of what the story contains, this allows for maximal comparison of how it is told. The study consists of a corpus of 48 narrations, including 24 English-speakers and 24 Spanish-speakers, within which half of the speakers of each language are from Europe (Britain and Spain) and the other half are from North America (USA and Mexico), allowing for inter-lingual and cross-Atlantic variation to be explored also. The qualitative analysis is comprised of a text-world diagram for each narration using the aforementioned software and this is supported with a quantitative analysis of deictic and modal features. Again, the data transcriptions and quantitative figures are on the accompanying CD-ROM. With interesting results emerging across the languages and their sub-types, it is expected that the conclusions of the research will be relevant to translators working with Spanish and English narrative texts. Furthermore, the adaptation of text-world theory to Spanish, the developments made by extending its application and by improving its effectiveness can only serve to improve this promising new stylistic framework.
Date of AwardDec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPaul Simpson (Supervisor)

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