Dr. Sophie Marnette

Speech and Thought presentation in French:

Concepts and Strategies

John Benjamins. Amsterdam – New York. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 133

 2005. xiv, 379 pp. Hardbound. 1 58811 622 0 / USD 167.00.

90 272 5376 5 / EUR 135.00


Imagine a text that does not quote or refer to anybody’s speech or thoughts… A few examples come to mind : technical texts such as scientific papers, legal documents, instruction manuals and textbooks may not contain any. But if we try to imagine a narrative - oral or written - or an argumentative discourse (press article, political discussion, etc.) without any speech or thought presentation (S&TP), it is difficult to think of an example. Indeed the way we perceive a story, the reasons we do (or do not) empathise with the narrator or the characters, the bases on which we do (or do not) find a story realistic or entertaining are largely dependent on the way speech and thoughts are presented in the narrative, be it a novel, the story of our last holiday misadventures or even a good joke. And the same is true for our ability to present our arguments in a discussion or for our willingness to give credit to a journalist’s reporting. All these different types of discourse have their own special aims and they all tap accordingly into the rich continuum of various S&TP categories available. This means that the study of S&TP is not just another set of data available to linguists and literary scholars : it is an essential part of our in-depth knowledge of language and literature. The presence or absence of S&TP, the categories of S&TP used and their respective frequencies are thus essential factors in defining a particular type of discourse. This book aims at further understanding the concept of reported discourse and at bringing to light the strategies of S&TP that determine the very essence of specific speech genres.

In my book, I analyse and describe S&TP in French from a broad theoretical perspective, building bridges between linguistic, stylistic and narratological frameworks that have until now been developed separately by French-speaking scholars on the one hand, and by English-speaking scholars on the other hand. French théories de l'énonciation, especially the concept of split subject developed by O. Ducrot (1984) highlight the fact that discourse is by essence composed of a multiplicity of voices and points of view. This insistence on the polyphonic nature of language emphasises the intricate relationships existing between subjects and discourses - their own (past, present, future, imagined) and those of the others - and it allows for an uniquely complex and illuminating approach towards S&TP in terms of strategies, both rhetorical (argumentative discourse) and narratological (narrative dis-course). Anglo-Saxon scholars have concentrated on studying S&TP in context (mostly in corpora of written fiction, but also in written non-fiction and even spoken language). They have proposed invaluable categorisations of S&TP (suggesting that these categories should be seen as continuous rather than discrete, and sometimes distinguishing between reported speech, thought and writing) and they have considered S&TP in relation to notions such as faithfulness, involvement and speaker/narrator's control. The originality of the present book lies in the strong belief that a meaningful study of S&TP is possible only if one takes into account both French and Anglo-Saxon frameworks. Indeed, I show that far from contradicting one an-other, these approaches enormously benefit from being combined into a harmonious whole, creating a new and exciting paradigm for our conception of S&TP strategies.

The book is divided into two parts: ‘Concepts’ and ‘Strategies’. In the first part, I outline the implications of the French théorie de l’énonciation for the study of S&TP and I undertake an in-depth analysis of the concept of ‘reported discourse’. I discuss the multiple - and often unconscious - presuppositions on which most scholars base their definitions of this concept and offer my own views on what the study of speech and thought presentation could and should entail. This theoretical discussion forms the basis for all my subsequent analyses. In the second part, I examine S&TP strategies in a large range of discourse types : written and spoken French, medieval and modern literatures, fiction and non fiction, narrative and non narrative discourses. Basing my analysis on actual corpora and going beyond the canonical categories of S&TP, I show that the study of S&TP strategies is essential to our understanding of phenomena as diverse as the evolution and categorisation of literary genres, the production and staging of ‘orality’ in literature, the various conceptualisations of the notion of ‘Truth’ in fiction and non fiction, the expression of points of view in narrative and the construction of the Self versus the representation of the ‘Other’ in discourse.

In short, this analysis aims at demonstrating the importance of S&TP in French linguistics today and its relevance to the study of both language and literature. As such, it is not only geared towards linguists but also towards scholars and advanced students interested in applying linguistics to the study of literature.


Ducrot, Oswald. 1984. Le dire et le dit. Editions de Minuit. Paris.

Leech, Geoffrey & Michael Short. 1981. Style in Fiction, A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose. Longman. London - New York.


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Email: sophie.marnette@balliol.ox.ac.uk

Last updated on August 2005