Narrative Structures in Cross-linguistic Perspective: English, Hobongan, and Daqan

  • Marla Perkins independent scholar


It has been noted (Perkins, 2009; Zwaan 1999; Zwaan and Radvansky, 1998) that causality, character, location, and time are the four main aspects of narrative discourse, even if not attended to in equal ways—for example, in English, character is highly ranked, and the locational/spatial components have often been underestimated. However, this is not a universal ranking. In a partial report on field work conducted in Borneo in 2012-2015, I note typological patterns in stylistic preferences within a selection of short narratives in English, Hobongan, and Daqan (the latter two are Austronesian). The strategies identified in the languages, by which the rankings of the various types of narrative information are foregrounded or backgrounded, include focus particles (Hobongan), specificity of description, or lack thereof (each), what component is most involved in driving the narrative forward (each), and frequency of information given about different components of the narrative (each). For example, English narratives center around a character or characters, and a great deal of specific information is given about such characters. In Hobongan, by contrast, the characters are backgrounded relative to the locational information provided, which is given specific description and is marked repeatedly as the focus of the narrative. In Daqan, still another pattern can be identified, that of a given duration providing the justification for and coherence throughout a narrative. It is suggested that analyses of the stylistics of information in narrative be included in typological categorizations and linguistic descriptions of languages, and that such analyses need, as much as possible, to be informed by an understanding of preferred patterns in different languages.