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Susanne Günthner

Constructing scenic moments: grammatical and rhetoric-stylistic devices for staging past events in everyday narratives

In this paper I shall analyze grammatical and rhetoric-stylistic devices speakers use in order to construct scenic moments and to build up narrative tension in everyday narratives, especially in complaint stories.

Complaint stories belong to the "family" of "reconstructive communicative genres" (Bergmann/Luckmann 1995) which recontextualize past experience in the social-communicative present time. They are "big packages", according to Sacks (1968-72/92), i.e. relatively long sequences of talk. The "participation framework" of complaint stories includes:

a) The narrator and complainant, who appears as protagonist in the narrative. This protagonist is the victim of some wrongdoing in the storyworld.

b) The recipients of the complaint story, who are not part of the storyworld and thus were not witnesses of the events being reconstructed.

c) The antagonist and wrongdoer who harmed, unjustly attacked, or wronged the protagonist and who is not present in the narrating situation.

The antagonist's morally inappropriate behavior towards the protagonist forms the focus of the narrative (Günthner 1997; 2000a).

I will argue that narrators of complaint stories not only reconstruct the wrongdoings of others, but also stage these past events as "little shows" (Goffman 1986 [1974]: 506); i.e. they present them as something for the recipients "to re-experience, to dwell on, to savor" (Goffman 1986 [1974]: 506). In the following analysis I will present the grammatical and rhetoric-stylistic devices narrators use to stage past events in complaint stories.

This analysis is based on 36 complaint stories, which were narrated in informal German conversation (conversations over dinner, during coffee-breaks and over the telephone) among friends and family members.

 To cite this publication:
Günthner, Susanne: Constructing scenic moments: grammatical and rhetoric-stylistic devices for staging past events in everyday narratives, InLiSt - Interaction and Linguistic Structures, No. 22, January 2001, URL: <http://www.uni-potsdam.de/u/inlist/issues/22/index.htm>


InLiSt No.22
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