A model for the cognitive linguistic analysis of journalistic narratives

In journalistic narratives, the negotiation of viewpoints is more complex than in fictional narratives. Two fundamental issues, both pertaining to journalism’s unique relation with reality, underlie this complexity. First, the Basic Space in journalistic narratives always represents the viewpoint of the journalist who, by definition, coincides with the “real-life” author of the narrative. The Basic Space of journalistic narratives thus represents the here-and-now of reality. Second, journalistic narratives should only represent content in the Narrative Space that is factually true in the Basic Space as well. These two issues have consequences for the basic set-up of spaces and the negotiation of viewpoints. We therefore present an extended model for the cognitive linguistic analysis of journalistic narratives. The basic configuration of spaces is displayed in Figure 1.

Basic configuration of spaces in journalistic narratives

Figure 1: Basic configuration of spaces in journalistic narratives

The Basic Space represents the deictic here-and-now viewpoint of the actual journalistic narrator in the present. Embedded in the Basic Space is the Narrative Space, which represents the viewpoint of a Virtual Observer: a derivative of the narrator projected into the narrative who observes the different narrative events as they unfold and mediates them. The presence of a Virtual Observer in the Narrative Space has to be assumed in order to account for the absent reporter.

Within the Narrative Space, Episode Spaces represent the subsequent narrative episodes on the time line which the Virtual Observer experiences. Each Episode Space has a distinct topology in terms of time, space, and characters involved. Transfer from one Episode Space to another is typically constructed by one or more of the following linguistic signals: full noun reference to a main character, indication of place, or a temporal adverb (Sanders 1990).

Since embedding in narrative discourse is a recursive mechanism (cf. Sanders et al. 2012), Episode Spaces may in turn include the viewpoints of characters (news sources) that play a role in it; for within each Episode Space, embedded Source Viewpoint-spaces can be opened up that represent the thoughts, perceptions, or utterances of a particular person. These Source Viewpoint-spaces are thus filled with information that is valid from the point of view of this particular person, but not necessarily from the point of view of other sources, the Virtual Observer, or the journalist. Several linguistic strategies have been described that signal viewpoint embedding. Important strategies are the change of verb tense, the use of cognitive and perception verbs, and various instruments of speech and thought representation (Dancygier 2012; Sanders and Redeker 1996; Sweetser 2012; Sweetser and Fauconnier 1996).

Under some circumstances, space embedding implicates space blending (Fauconnier and Turner 2002). In particular, a source’s viewpoint can be percolated up to the Basic Space and blend with the narrator’s viewpoint. Free Indirect Mode (Nikiforidou 2012) and present tense narration of cognition and perception (Dancygier 2012) are two main strategies to blend viewpoints. The effect of these blending strategies is that the reader has access to the story events through a viewpoint space shared by narrator and source (Dancygier 2012: 96-100). Space blending thus moves beyond the mere representation of a source’s viewpoint through embedding; it allows the source’s viewpoint to (temporarily) structure the narrative at the level of the Basic Space. In other words, the narrator draws the reader close to specific sources or even inside their heads, thus guiding readers’ identification with these persons (Cohen 2001; Oatley 1999) and facilitating their transformation into mediated witnesses to news events.

In doing so, journalists have to attribute information to the sources in order to guarantee the truthfulness of their narratives. Such attributions, which often take the form of quotations (Vis, Sanders and Spooren 2015), take the reader temporarily outside the narrative in order to demonstrate that the journalist and the eyewitness exchanged information about the news events, somewhere between the occurrence of these events and the journalistic narrating of these events. In terms of Mental Space structures, attributions give access to a Narrative-External Discourse Space. As can be seen in Figure 2, this Discourse Space is positioned outside of the Narrative Space to indicate that the interaction between journalist and source is not part of the narrative itself. As such, the Narrative-External Discourse Space establishes the crucial link between reality and the narrative reconstruction of that reality.

In the following, we will apply our framework to two journalistic narratives about mass shootings. It will be demonstrated how the linguistic strategies employed by the journalists lead to embedding and blending in these narratives which aim to turn readers into mediated witnesses to these events within the boundaries of the genre.

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