Multivariate Analysis of Stance in Fiction: A Case Study

Multivariate Analysis of Stance in Fiction: A Case Study

Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-932-8.ch002
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This study investigates the expression of stance in Samuel Beckett’s prose work. Following Biber and Finegan (1989), a wide variety of stance markers are identified and calculated in the texts. A multivariate statistical methodology is then used to analyze the way in which these markers of stance interact in the texts. The results are plotted two-dimensionally to enable visualizing the similarities and differences between the texts. These are also illustrated using examples from the texts. Some of the findings are a little surprising and, therefore, a new tool is used to plot the results three-dimensionally, enabling a better understanding of how stance is reflected and how the texts resemble and deviate from one another. Finally, the usefulness of this analysis is discussed.
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This study investigates how Samuel Beckett’s prose texts express attitude and assessment, in particular emotions, moods and degree of certainty of knowledge. Samuel Beckett’s literary style developed over his career from a traditional, third-person narrative style to a highly innovative, minimalist one (Brienza 1987). It is widely acknowledged that in the third part of his trilogy, The Unnamable, he began to move towards the greater abstraction of his later works and in the 1960s Beckett made his first attempts towards the kind of minimalist style that he is so well known for in the prose and drama his later years (for a discussion on this see Knowlson and Pilling 1979). These later texts are often verbless, impressions of surroundings, told by no one in particular and addressed to no one either. Therefore, it could be assumed that his prose works are also likely to show differences in the way in which attitudes and assessments, or stance, is expressed.

The marking of attitude is related to the concept of reader involvement, in that by making him or her privy to the attitudes of the narrator or character(s), the reader is drawn into the texts. This is in accordance with reader response theory, which has taken many forms, including reader response criticism, reception theory and phenomenology (Ballaster 2007). Common to these is an emphasis on the role of the reader in creating meaning, and the relationship between the reader and the text. Some of the differences between the various approaches lie in the notion of textuality. Some claim that the text is self-contained and meaning is centered in the text; others claim that meaning is reader-centered and that the reader brings his or her knowledge and experience to the text, shaping it in the process (Bleich 1978; Davis 2002; Fish 1980; Hamilton & Schneider 2002; Harker 1992; Iser 1974; Jauss 1982; Riffaterre 1978; Selden, Widdowson & Brooker 1997). Its early forms include the work of semioticians such as Umberto Eco (1979), who argued that some texts, such as Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, positively invite the reader to participate in the making of meaning. In Beckett’s case, this is of particular interest, since the later texts are written in such a minimalist style; they are like impressions in the mind of the narrator that are being related to some perceived listener. His prose works are almost telegraphic in style and are stripped of many of the markers of syntax. The reader has to bring much of the meaning into the text himself or herself in order to interpret it, thus also becoming involved in the manuscript. It is therefore particularly interesting to investigate how the narrator’s attitudes and assessments are conveyed in Beckett’s prose texts.

In recent years, linguists have become increasingly interested in how attitudes and assessments are expressed in speech and writing. Such studies have used a variety of different terms. Sometimes researchers talk about evaluation (Hunston 1994; Thompson and Hunston 2001), referring to how writers/speakers talk about their positive and negative opinions on a topic. Other concepts include affect (Ochs 1989), evidentiality (Chafe 1986), hedging (Holmes 1988, Hyland 1996), appraisal (Martin 2001), and stance (Barton 1993; Beach and Anson 1992; Biber and Finegan 1988, 1989; Kärkkäinen 2003). Broadly speaking, some of these focus more on the writer’s attitudes, e.g. affect and appraisal, whereas others refer more to their judgement on the likelihood of events, e.g. evidentiality and hedging, and yet others, e.g. stance and evaluation, combine the two aspects, covering both attitude and judgement. What is common to all, though, is that they discuss the expression of opinions from the speaker’s or writer’s point of view, and not necessarily from what is embedded in the language items themselves. Leech (1974: 15-18) discusses this in making a distinction between connotative meaning (i.e., the meaning of an expression that is derived from the ‘real-world experience’ one has had, and affective meaning, that is, meaning derived from the ‘personal feelings of the speaker’). People have attitudes, whereas linguistic items have connotations (Thompson and Hunston 2001: 2).1

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