Empirical research into the processing of free indirect discourse and the imperative of ecological validity

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This paper uses two principal examples to argue that experimentalist research paradigms in empirical literary research can be suggestive but that results are not easily extrapolatable to actual real world literary reading events, particularly where, as with free indirect discourse (fid), the phenomenon to be investigated is demonstrably complex, multifaceted and highly contingent. More broadly, the paper raises the issue of whether in fact most literary reading is not typically as complicated as fid, in which case complementary or alternative research approaches may be needed. I close by advocating more nuanced qualitative or ethnographic approaches which respect the complexity of the phenomena under investigation to achieve better understanding, even at the possible expense of seductively neat graphs, tables and statistics. As van Peer suggests in my opening epigraph, empirical research at its best can be highly suggestive. My argument is simply that we need always to remember that what we think of as empirical research should not be limited to experimentalist paradigms. The empirical literary research community will be able to say more useful things about fid and the wider complexities of literary reading by complementing more experimentalist work with more contextually sensitive investigations, to the mutual benefit of both.


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