Opinion Piece: How People Structure Representations of Discourse


Mental models or situation models include representations of people, but much of the literature about such models focuses on the representation of eventualities (events, states, and processes) or (small-scale) situations. In the well-known event-indexing model of Zwaan, Langston, and Graesser (1995), for example, protagonists are just one of five dimensions on which situation models are indexed. They are not given any additional special status. Consideration of longer narratives, and the ways in which readers or listeners relate to them, suggest that people have a more central status in the way we think about texts, and hence in discourse representations, Indeed, such considerations suggest that discourse representations are organised around (the representations of) central characters. The paper develops the idea of the centrality of main characters in representations of longer texts, by considering, among other things, the way information is presented in novels, with L’Éducation Sentimentale by Gustav Flaubert as a case study. Conclusions are also drawn about the role of representations of people in the representation of other types of text.

Author Biography

Alan Garnham , School of Psychology University of Sussex Brighton, BN1 9QH UK

Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex since 1999. Research interests in Psycholinguistics, Thinking and Reasoning, and Mental Models Theory