Cognitive Grammar and Readers’ Perceived Sense of Closeness: A Study of Responses to Mary Borden’s ‘Belgium’

Abstract

This article analyses the degree to which readers report a perceived sense of closeness to the events depicted in ‘Belgium’, the opening story of Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone. Theoretically, I draw on Ronald Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar, which models language primarily through its notion of construal, an aspect of which claims that -ing forms impose an internal perspective on a scene that results in the interpretative effect of it being ‘close by’. This study tests this idea empirically by utilising a quantitative tool (Likert scale) to elicit two sets of verbal data which are then analysed qualitatively. My analysis demonstrates that readers respond to the events in the story and articulate the relationship of particular language features to their responses in different – and often surprising – ways. The study is the first in stylistics to empirically test the interpretative effects of verb forms as theorised by Cognitive Grammar and thus contributes new knowledge both by exploring how the landscapes of First World War literature are experienced by readers and analysing how the language of those landscapes may give rise to particular reported effects by readers.

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