A descriptive analysis of dialogue and inner speech in selected works of fiction

Raymond H Clines, University of Rhode Island


This study supports the contention that linguistic analysis can be an important tool in understanding the artistry and significance of literary works. It yields interesting information about lexical-syntactic relations in English, the various options authors have available in structuring fictional dialogue and inner speech, and the ways in which language can be made to reflect different modes of perception. It also contributes to an understanding of how structural features of dialogue and inner speech further, and in part, constitute narrative characterization.^ It is essentially interpretive and comparative, looking at the ways in which fictional characters' inner speech passages or dialogue may correspond to aspects of their personality, or differ linguistically from passages of other characters or from passages attributable to the narrator. It examines features traditionally used in linguistic/stylistic analysis (syntactic, lexical, and phonological). Most of the passages are selected randomly from the novels, and statistical significance is computed using Z Scores or the Chi-Square formula.^ I have chosen four novels which provide as broad a range of narrative presentational modes as possible. The highly experimental writing of James Joyce's Ulysses and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury constitute one end of the spectrum of what is possible in delineating idiosyncratic linguistic structure. I compare passages of interior monologue (stream of consciousness) of each of the main characters with each other and with passages of conventional dialogue and straight third-person narration. The narrative structure of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which uses a first-person persona as a filtering consciousness, presents a different kind of stylistic challenge. I compare the structural features of Huck's narrative with his dialogue and with the dialogues of Tom, Jim, and the Duke. Finally, I have chosen a novel which uses a conventional and traditional narrative framework--third-person omniscient point of view with standard dialogue, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I analyze passages of dialogue from the main characters, looking at ways in which the linguistic features may contribute to a reader's interpretation of characterization and at ways in which their speech can be distinguished from one another's. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.) ^

Subject Area

Language, Linguistics

Recommended Citation

Raymond H Clines, "A descriptive analysis of dialogue and inner speech in selected works of fiction" (1988). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI8901697.