“Now everyone knows I’m a serial killer”
Spontaneous intentionality in conversational metaphor and story-telling
Drawing on data from a series of informal conversations about public safety and police-community relations, we distinguish between a speaker’s generalized communicative intentions with respect to metaphor use and story-telling, based on what Chafe (1994, p. 145) calls “unifying ideas that persist in semiactive consciousness” and the spontaneous intentions that arise within the short-term focus or spotlight of consciousness and guide the production of actual utterances. Although speakers occasionally enter a conversation with a fixed intention to express an idea with a particular metaphor, tell a particular story in a particular style, or accomplish some other speech act, such as persuading or informing, more commonly in ordinary conversations speakers begin with only a generalized intention to engage in the social interaction, sometimes but not always accompanied by generalized intentions regarding a particular topic or a particular form of expression. We argue that these “unifying ideas” interact with the contents of the short-term focus or spotlight of consciousness to generate spontaneous communicative intentions that in turn guide the production of metaphors, stories, and other language segments. Often these spontaneous communicative intentions arise interactively in response to other participants’ utterances; sometimes they arise in response to unforeseen opportunities in the speaker’s own utterances. Consequently, in ordinary casual conversations the spontaneous communicative intentions behind metaphor, story-telling and humor are often formed ‘on the fly,’ in response to the dynamic social interaction, and sometimes as a result of collaboration with other participants.