A Humanizing Literary Pragmatics

Theory, criticism, education. Selected papers 1985-2002

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In much of his earlier work Roger D. Sell was shaping literary studies, historical perspectives, and pragmatics into a fluent interdisciplinarity. This enabled him to explore the fundamentally human relationships which develop between literary writers and those who respond to them.

Literary writers, through their handling of deixis, evaluative and modal expressions, tellability, politeness norms, and genre expectations, activate the same interpersonal function of language as do other language users, and respondents’ hermeneutic contextualizations of literary texts are no less standard as a pragmatic procedure. Not that context is completely determinative. In Sell’s account, human beings are profoundly influenced by society, but can sometimes enter into co-adaptations with it. Like other people, literary writers and their respondents are “social individuals”, who themselves benefit from respecting each other’s relative autonomy.

As well as explaining these theoretical positions, the papers selected here offered critical re-assessments of some major writers, including Chaucer and Dickens. They also suggested new ways of dealing with literary texts in literary and language education at all levels.

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