A Discourse-Cognitive Approach to Bohumil Hrabal

Masako Fidler, Brown University

Prose by Bohumil Hrabal, one of the most significant writers of Czech literature, intrigues not only literary scholars, but also linguists with its distinct language. Hrabal’s texts are said to be marked for clause-inversion that leads to specific rhythm and to spontaneous emergence of imageries (Jankovič 1994:245). His 1964 prose Taneční hodiny pro starší a pokročilé was conceptualized as one single un-ending sentence (Soldán et al. 1997:90). Most importantly, Hrabal’s texts are often characterized by Pábení—a unique narrative style that combines elements of spoken narration and mystification. This paper will present a discourse-cognitive linguistic analysis of small samples from Pábitelé, texts that are said to reflect Hrabal’s typical “pábitel” narrative style that resembles natural spoken speech. Its main goal is to describe how some of the linguistic features challenge the reader’s context, leading him/her to consider and/or accept new types of causal relationships and ways to perceive events and situations. For this purpose I will first examine the word order, cohesion between propositions in clauses, thematic progressions and disruptions, framing of original direct speeches, and sound symbolic quality of the texts. I will then show ways in which the interplay among these processes makes Hrabal’s texts informative to the reader: how it modifies the reader’s assumptions and encyclopedic knowledge and creates unusual propositions and imageries in his/her context. I will use the texts published in the complete works of Bohumil Hrabal (vol. 4). In order to delineate Hrabal’s deviations from the norm on various levels, I will refer to the literature that deals with thematic progression (e.g. Daneš 1968; Hajicová and Vrbová 1981, Müllerová and Hoffmanová 1994), conversation analysis and its extension (e. g. Schegloff and Sacks 1973; Nekvapil & Leudar 2002), analysis of spoken Czech (e.g. Müllerová et al. 1992; Müllerová and Hoffmanová 1994; Müllerová et al. 1999), syntax (e.g. Petr et al. 1987; Karlík et al. 1995), and cohesion (Halliday and Hasan 1976). My final analysis on the effects of Hrabal’s texts will follow the theoretical framework of the cognitive model (Relevance Theory) proposed by Sperber and Wilson (1986).


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