William Labov, "The Language of Life & Death"

February 28, 2013
All Day
Postle Hall 1180

This paper will present cognitive and social principles that govern the construction of oral narratives of personal experience, illustrated in accounts of the escalation of violence, confrontation with death, and communication with the dead:

Narratives are initiated by a remembered chain of causal relations that link the most reportable event to the least reportable.

Narratives are constructed as a temporal sequence of events in the order that they were experienced.

Narrative construction responds to an inverse relation of reportability to credibility.

Reportability is maximized through irrealis predicates which compare realized events with possible worlds of unrealized events.

Credibility is maximized through realis predicates that give voice to animate and inanimate third person witnesses.

Narratives define responsibility for the events narrated by linguistic devices that expand and contract degrees of factivity, including repetition and elision.