VIDI Project FICTION (2016-2021)
The Language of Fiction and Imagination
When I tell you a wizard has been helping me write my grant proposal, you’ll think I’ve gone crazy. But when a novelist writes about a school for wizards in the English countryside, nobody bats an eye. In the context of a fiction, all the usual expectations of truth and reference are out the window, yet we can still interpret the text and even be emotionally involved with the characters described. The aim of the present project is to develop a formally explicit account of fiction interpretation that explains this fundamental difference between fiction and everyday communication.
The main hurdle is that formal semantics – the study of linguistic meaning in terms of truth and reference – starts to limp badly when it comes to, say, non-referring names or inconsistent plots. Hence, literary scholars turn to cognitive semantics – a growing movement in linguistics that seeks to replace logical formalism with a cognitively oriented view of meaning. Unfortunately, this entails giving up the benefits of formal semantics, like its successful interfaces with generative syntax, computational linguistics, and psycholinguistics. To overcome this dilemma, I build a bridge between the disjoint research traditions of cognitive and formal semantics. Leveraging recent advances in Discourse Representation Theory, I’ll develop a new, cognitively oriented formal semantic framework. In this framework, everyday communication involves dynamic belief updates, while fiction involves the reader "updating her imagination."
The project has three parts: (A) developing a formal model of mental states, including imagination and belief; (B) formalizing the idea of speech acts triggering imagination updates; and (C) figuring out what linguistic features distinguish fiction from other types of discourse. Putting these components together provides us with a cognitive/formal semantics of fiction that will shed new light on a wide variety of current debates about fiction, imagination, and narrative style.
Groningen-Tilburg Workshop on Visual Narrative, online 25 Sept, 2020.
Special issue CfP: Perspective Taking in Language, deadline for papers 30 Sept 2020.
Workshop on Common Ground and Discourse Structure, Groningen, <postponed>
Paris-Groningen van Gogh workshop on Lying, Fiction and Pretence, Dec 2019.
Workshop: The Language of Fiction. June 28-30, 2019, Uppsala. Organized together with Andreas Stokke.
Workshop: Post Truth: The semantics and pragmatics of saying what you believe to be false. March 6-8 2019, DGfS Jahrestagung, Bremen. Organized together with Daniel Gutzmann and Katharina Turgay.
Workshop: Once upon a time... Semantic approaches to fiction, literature, and narrative. September 17-18, 2018, University of Groningen
NWO VIDI 2015 project, started October 2016.
Team: Emar Maier (PI), Sofia Bimpikou (PhD student, Jan 2017-2021), and Merel Semeijn (PhD student, Feb 2017-2021).
Email me if you want to read the full research proposal.
Here's a video (from the RuG's promotional video magazine, Unifocus) where I introduce the project in 2 minutes: