Literary interpretations of linguistic form: a psychological account

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Some forms of literary interpretation involve assigning meaning or significance to aspects of linguistic form, in which literary forms based on phonology (e.g. meter and rhyme) and syntax (e.g. parallelism and enjambment) can acquire symbolic status through interpretation. For example, in discussing Modernist poetic form, Daniel Albright writes that ‘… a Modernist stanza is often less like a perfected design than like the outline of an animal in the python’s belly’ (Albright, 2007, p.40).Such interpretations can be called literary interpretations of linguistic form. However, relatively little is known about how they arise. To address this, this thesis proposes a new psychological account of how literary interpretations of linguistic form arise. The account proposes three stages of processing. In stage one, readers first encounter and process the text’s surface-structure features, where they can become aware of certain text elements such as foregrounding and other kinds of textual patterning.These text elements can produce various effects such as feelings of pleasure or reward (caused by either processing fluency or difficulty), strikingness, familiarity or defamiliarisation, and other affective and aesthetic feelings, forming stage two processing, where the aesthetic processing of linguistic form occurs. In stage three, the reader is prompted, as a result of the various feelings produced in stage two, to reflect on their meaning and significance, causing them to engage in interpretation.To support my model, I build on current theoretical and empirical work that addresses some of the processing aspects referred to in the model. Miall and Kuiken (1994), for instance, propose a similar three-phase model, in which ‘…foregrounding prompts defamiliarization, defamiliarization evokes affect, and affect guides "refamiliarizing" interpretive efforts’ (Miall and Kuiken 1994, 405). Other studies have shown how textual elements contribute to the aesthetic processing of literary texts (see Jacobs 2015b; Aryani etal., 2015; Burke 2016)
Date of Award26 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde

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