Linguistic Models in Narratology: From Structuralism to Generative Semantics.
Of all my papers, this is certainly the most outdated, and I only list it here as a literary-historical curiosity. In the mid-seventies, intrigued by the structuralist claim that linguistics should serve as model for literary theory, I enrolled in a linguistics program to find out what had happened to linguistics since Saussure; I reasoned that if it was the "scientific" status of linguistics that made it into a "pilot discipline," literary theory should keep up with its development rather than remaining forever stuck on the structuralist model. What I discovered in my studies was of course Chomskyís generative grammar, and what was then the hot new idea, generative semantics, a version of Chomskyís model promoted by George Lakoff, John Ross, and James McCawley. These linguists argued that the derivation of sentences should not start from abstract syntactic structures (such as those generated by Chomskyís rewrite rules), but from a semantic representation which could be captured in some version of predicate calculus. This paper represents my attempt to adapt the idea of generative semantics to narratology. I distinguish three stages in the development of narrative grammar: a structuralist stage, illustrated by Proppís Morphology of the Folktale, a classical Chomskyan generative stage, illustrated by Gerald Princeís Grammar of Stories, and a generative semantic stage, which I outline through a rewriting of Princeís rules in more semantic terms. The main weakness of the model, as I see it now, is its reliance on hierarchical tree-shaped diagrams which makes the coding of parallel plot lines, movement in space and interaction between characters highly unnatural. In my later work, starting with "The Window Structure," I gave up linguistics-inspired trees, and switched to network-shaped diagrams to represent plots. This amounts, unfortunately, to giving up on the idea of a simple, elegant algorithm for the computation and mental processing of narrative, since networks are computationally much less efficient than trees.
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Is There Life for Saussure after Structuralism ?
A review essay of Jonathan Cullerís excellent book on Saussure, but really more focused on the linguist, my fellow Genevan, than on Cullerís discussion of his work.
At the time I wrote this text, I thought that the answer to the title question would be "no," because I could not see how we can acquire language and more or less communicate with words if, as Saussure declares, "in language there are only differences without positive terms." Poststructuralism and deconstruction have proved me wrong. Saussureís doctrine of the differential nature of meaning (a doctrine far more radical than the rather uncontroversial postulation of the arbitrariness of the relation between signifier and signified) is still widely regarded as foundational by literary theorists, not for its linguistic and cognitive validity (dare I say: scientific truth), but because it happens to support the relativist agenda of critical theory. Saussure is less the founding father of modern linguistics than the adopted ancestor of postmodern thought. No amount of logical argumentation can threaten this position.
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