Edited by Bert Le Bruyn and Janine Berns
[Linguistics in the Netherlands 35] 2018
► pp. 125–138
Empathy for the inanimate
Narrative fiction may invite us to share the perspective of characters which are very much unlike ourselves. Inanimate objects featuring as protagonists or narrators are an extreme example of this. The way readers experience these characters was examined by means of a narrative immersion study. Participants (N = 200) judged narratives containing animate or inanimate characters in predominantly Agent or Experiencer roles. Narratives with inanimate characters were judged to be less emotionally engaging. This effect was influenced by the dominant thematic role associated with the character: inanimate Agents led to more defamiliarization compared to their animate counterparts than inanimate Experiencers. I argue for an integrated account of thematic roles and animacy in literary experience and linguistics in general.