How literary can literariness be?
Methodological problems in the study of foregrounding
In literary theory, there are two common proposals about the nature of literature: that literariness is a distinctive characteristic of literary texts and that literariness is mostly characterized by highly foregrounded textual features. Our studies focused on the effects of genre expectations. In two experiments, we examined whether particular rhetorical figures (features, such as oxymora, synesthesia, and personification) are processed differently when readers think they are embedded in literary sentences. Participants were first induced to think that the sentences they were reading were taken either from literary texts (literary group) or from newspaper articles (news group). They then read sentences containing rhetorical figures and control sentences that did not contain figurative language. Results of Experiment 1 were consistent with prior research indicating that genre expectations influence how a text is processed (Zwaan, 1991, 1994). Moreover, specifically in the news group, genre expectations similarly affect reading times for sentences with rhetorical figures and sentences containing low frequency and long words, suggesting that foregrounding presents a lexical challenge elicited by micro-level linguistic and rhetorical “obstacles.” However, Experiment 2 did not replicate the findings of Experiment 1. These conflicting results prompt consideration of the limitations of an exclusive focus on foregrounding; in literary texts there is always an interchange between backgrounding and foregrounding elements.
Keywords: literariness, rhetorical figures, foregrounding, low frequency words
Published online: 28 July 2016
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Jacobs, Arthur M.
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