Text World Theory and real world readers: From literature to life in a Belfast prison

Patricia Canning*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Cognitive stylistics offers a range of frameworks for understanding (amongst other things) what producers of literary texts 'do' with language and how they 'do' it. Less prevalent, however, is an understanding of the ways in which these same frameworks offer insights into what readers 'do' (and how they 'do' it). Text World Theory (Werth, 1999; Gavins, 2007; Whiteley, 2011) has proved useful for understanding how and why readers construct mental representations engendered by the act of reading. However, research on readers' responses to literature has largely focused on an 'idealised' reader or an 'experimental' subject-reader often derived from within the academy and conducted using contrived or amended literary fiction. Moreover, the format of traditional book groups (participants read texts privately and discuss them at a later date) as well as online community forums such as Goodreads, means that such studies derive data from post-hoc, rather than real-time textual encounters and discussions. The current study is the first of its kind in analysing real-time reading contexts with real readers during a researcher-led literary project ('read.live.learn') in Northern Ireland's only female prison. In doing so, the study is unique in addressing experimental and post hoc bias. Using Text World Theory, the paper considers the personal and social impact of reader engagement in the talk of the participants. As such, it has three interrelated aims: to argue for the social and personal benefits of reading stylistically rich literature in real-time reading groups; to demonstrate the efficacy of stylistics for understanding how those benefits come about, and to demonstrate the inter-disciplinary value of stylistics, particularly its potential for traversing traditional research parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-187
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage and Literature
Volume26
Issue number2
Early online date21 May 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes

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