Readers’ Reaction to Tense Switching in Hrafnkels saga freysgoða: Combining Corpus-Linguistic and Experimental Methods


  • Viola Miglio
  • Stefan Th Gries



Abrupt switches between different tenses (past-to-present, present-to-past) are known from oral narratives and medieval literature in Romance languages, but there is little consensus about their function and interpretation. In this study, we combine corpus-linguistic tools with experimental methods and quantitative analysis to shed light on the use of tense switches in a medieval Icelandic prose text (Hrafnkels saga freysgoða). Specifically, we part-of-speech tagged all words in Hrafnkels saga freysgoða and then determined where verbs exhibit tense switches. In a second step, we had 19 subjects mark all parts in the saga they consider climactic so as to study the overall as well as subject-specific correlations between climaxness and tense switches. In the vast majority of subjects, we observe the expected correlation, and for most of these it is significant. We discuss the findings with regard to their implications for tense switching as a performative device and the position of sagas on an orality-literacy continuum.