Possible worlds of a literary text character: a cognitive and quantitative linguistic approach

Keywords: basic propositional schema, character, coverage rate, evaluation, mean frequency, narrative concept, possible worlds, primary / secondary possible worlds, semantics of lingual networks


The article aims to forward a model for analyzing the evaluative component of controversial literary characters. This model presupposes the application of the basic tenets of the possible worlds theory to the analysis of a fiction text, combining it with the methodology of cognitive and quantitative linguistics. To exemplify the employment of the developed model, the image of Louis XI, the King of France, depicted by W. Scott in his novel Quentin Durward, was analyzed. Portrayed as an astute politician, this protagonist puts on different guises and plays numerous roles while the plot unravels, trying to achieve his goals and influence the people around him. Such roles are viewed in the article as possible worlds of Louis XI. In these worlds, he is described through various positive and negative characteristics, which are considered predicates of basic propositional schemas featuring in semantics of lingual networks. To fathom the importance and ubiquity of the characteristics, two indices used in quantitative linguistics (coverage rate and mean frequency) were employed. Such a complex approach enabled to reveal the existence of 15 possible worlds of Louis XI in the novel. Two-thirds of them are primary possible worlds created via direct description of the image by the author, and one-third is secondary possible worlds, where the King is depicted indirectly by presenting the vantage point of other characters who appraise Louis and express their attitude to him. The most important characteristics of Louis emphasized by the author and featuring in the maximum number of his possible world create a portrait of a skillful medieval monarch. Being sly, he hypocritically conceals his true cruel and mercenary aspirations and generally succeeds in presenting himself to others as a devout Christian and wise ruler acting for the benefit of his subjects, which is vindicated by the prevalence of his positively charged descriptions. Thus, the image created by W. Scott in his novel lives up to the reputation of Universal Spider—the symptomatic nickname that this historical figure earned from his contemporaries.


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How to Cite
Pavkin, D. (2021). Possible worlds of a literary text character: a cognitive and quantitative linguistic approach. Cognition, Communication, Discourse, (22), 59-76. https://doi.org/10.26565/2218-2926-2021-22-04