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The Mimetic Mystery: A linguistic study of the genre of British and American detective fiction including a comparison with suspense fiction
Stockholm University.
1997 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The present study is an analysis of the genre of detective fiction from a predominantly linguistic point of view.

The main hypothesis is that the addresser's aims determine not only the content of a text but also its discursive and textual properties. The hypothesis is borne out in the study of the genre constraints on content, discourse, and language in detective fiction. The main aim of detective fiction is to present a problem and its solution in the form of a narrative. It is shown that a primarily objective and verisimilar discourse is used. In other words, the discourse is authorial and mimetic, which has implications for linguistic and other choices.

The main method of study is a comparison of excerpts from detective fiction with specimens of a genre which is closely related to it, viz. suspense fiction. A corpus consisting of approximately 160,000 words of detective fiction and 160,000 words of suspense fiction was compiled and computerized for this study. In addition, entire works of, and excerpts from, detective and suspense fiction are used as illustrations of genre characteristics. A small study is made of excerpts from works by authors who have written both detective fiction and other types of fiction. As corpus-based methods cannot be used to address all types of linguistic issues, in particular regarding the distribution of content elements over entire works of fiction, other methods of textual study are also employed.

The first part of the study contains an analysis of the concepts of literature and popular fiction. A comparison of the concepts of genre, register, discourse, text, and style is also made. Detective fiction is categorized as a genre and its history is presented mainly from a literary point of view and also compared to suspense fiction.

The second part contains a presentation of narratives in general and of detective stories in particular. It analyzes the narratological structure and the type of narration used in detective fiction, presents linguistic markers of authorial narration as well as evidence for mimesis. An analysis is made of the manner in which speech and thought are rendered in detective fiction. Temporal and informational aspects of detective fiction are treated, especially the issue of how suspense and curiosity are created. In addition, a comparison is made of the opening and middle sections of detective and suspense fiction novels. In order to illustrate how discourse functions are instantiated in text, the distributions of certain types of clauses in a few entire works of fiction are also presented. The results support the hypothesis that detective fiction is in general more objective and verisimilar, i.e. authorial and mimetic, than suspense fiction. This in turn supports the main hypothesis of this study, viz. that aims influence a text's discursive and linguistic properties. Thus, it is possible to distinguish between two closely related genres of fiction also as regards language.

Finally, the conclusion is drawn that as dialogue and relating parts fulfill different functions in fiction, they have different textual properties and should be kept apart in linguistic accounts of fiction.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University , 1997. , 278 p.
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-61839ISBN: 91-628-2740-5OAI: diva2:438139
Public defence
1997-11-15, 10:00
Available from: 2011-09-01 Created: 2011-09-01 Last updated: 2011-09-01Bibliographically approved

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