Original Research

Conversation, characterisation and corpus linguistics: Dialogue in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

E.H. Hubbard
Literator | Vol 23, No 2 | a331 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v23i2.331 | © 2002 E.H. Hubbard | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 August 2002 | Published: 06 August 2002

About the author(s)

E.H. Hubbard, Department of Linguistics, University of South Africa, South Africa

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This article reports on a corpus-based exploration of the role that fictional dialogue plays in characterisation. The focus is on the two main characters of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and (a) the extent to which certain features of their dialogue can be said to tie in with general perceptions that Elinor represents the “sense” and Marianne the “sensibility” of the novel’s title; and (b) the extent to which Austen can be said to have exploited these features to enable the sisters to speak with subtly differing voices. The features themselves were drawn from two linguistic frameworks, namely cohesion in text linguistics (specifically, the category of conjunctive cohesion as originated by Halliday and Hasan (1976)), and the category of “involvement” in register analysis (most prominently, Biber 1988). The density of these features in each dialogue was calculated, compared statistically and salient differences considered in relation to the focal issues of the study. Although two of the five hypotheses formulated were not supported, the results overall provided strong indications that Austen successfully distinguishes between the sisters through their dialogue, and often in ways that link with less subtle, more explicit cues to their character that are given in the text. The study thus reveals how certain text-linguistic and register features can underpin characterisation in fiction, and in so doing explicates aspects of what it is that readers and literary critics respond to when they comment on characterisation in a novel.


Jane Austen; Characterisation; Dialogue; Corpus Linguistics; Linguistic Stylistics; Text Linguistics


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