The STACS Project

The STACS Project

‘Stylistics, Text Analysis and Cognitive Science:
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Nature of Reading’

Project overview

This project brings together a stylistician and a team of psychologists to examine how people read narrative texts. We have been conducting an intensive programme of experiments, based on our analysis of stylistic features in narratives and other texts. This is a new approach since psychologists have previously paid little attention to the style of naturally-occurring texts when designing their experimental materials. The project is providing fresh insights into the nature of language processing.

Main investigators

Catherine Emmott (Senior Lecturer, English Language, University of Glasgow), Catherine.Emmott@glasgow.ac.uk
Anthony J. Sanford (Emeritus Professor, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow),Tony@psy.gla.ac.uk

Collaborators

Marc Alexander (Lecturer, English Language, University of Glasgow)
Jason T. Bohan (University Teacher, Psychology, University of Glasgow)
Eugene Dawydiak (University Teacher, Psychology, University of Glasgow)
Heather Ferguson (Senior Lecturer, Psychology, University College London)
Ruth Filik (Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Glasgow)
Yuki Fukuda (Professor, Psychology, Hosei University, Japan)
Yuko Hijikata (Junior Associate Professor, School of Management, Tokyo University of Science, Japan)
Hartmut Leuthold (Professor, Psychology Institute, University of Tübingën, Germany)
Jo Molle (Researcher, Psychology Department, Reading University)
Lorna Morrow (University Teacher, Psychology, University of Glasgow)
Linda Moxey (Senior Lecturer, Psychology, University of Glasgow)
Jess Price (Assistant Professor, Psychology, University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus)
Alison Sanford (formerly Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde)

Project History and Funding

The project began in 2002 and was previously titled ‘Literature, Narrative and Cognitive Science: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Nature of Reading’ (The LINCS Project). We have been funded by two grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board/Council and a grant from the British Academy.

Methodologies

Stylistic analysis of selected texts, text change detection experiments, reading time experiments, eye-tracking and continuation tests. We have also collaborated with researchers in the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi) using ERP neuro-imaging.

Main topics for empirical testing on current project

(a) Attention: Psychology research on depth of processing has shown that readers are often inattentive to the details of what they read. Our research draws on our stylistic analysis to identify and test devices which can stimulate high levels of attention and control readers’ awareness of key information at crucial points in a text. We use Sanford’s new technique, the text change detection method, to examine how much detail readers notice. So far we have tested discourse features (direct speech/thought; first and second person narratives); syntactic features (e.g. cleft structures), lexical features (low frequency words and long words), punctuation and text formatting (unusually short sentences or sentence fragments, coupled with mini-paragraphs) and graphical devices (italics). All these stylistic features make readers notice more detail, hence suggesting that attention levels are raised. We have also tested narratological cues such as pre-announcements (“Then this happened”) emotion statements and statements of surprise, but, against our predictions, these showed no effect when tested with the text change detection method, possibly because the text change detection method may be sensitive to form not content.     

Our focus has been mainly on foregrounding in literary texts, popular fiction and autobiography, but the work also has relevance for the use of special stylistic and formatting devices in newspapers texts. The ability to show the effect on readers’ attention of graphical features is also relevant for graphic designers (e.g. in relation to advertising and internet web sites).      

We can also use the text change detection method to test low levels of attention. For example, this method shows how information can be buried in texts by including it in complex subordinate clauses. This has relevance for understanding how to improve writing skills and also for understanding manipulative writing, as in detective fiction.

(b) Double perspectives: We have investigated cases where a reader might be supposed to be thinking two things at once. We will draw on the core narratological notion of “unreliable focalization” (Booth/Genette/Bal) to examine examples where readers view events through the eyes of a character who is fundamentally mistaken. In such cases, it may be necessary for readers to override the message of a text. This observation should provide new insights into the relation between language and mind, since it challenges propositional and “accessibility” theories in Psychology and Linguistics.       The work on double perspectives links in with the more general empirical study of counterfactuals. Sanford’s joint work with Heather Ferguson examines whether information which is true of an imaginary world but is not true of the real world is checked against real world knowledge or not.  

(c) Scenarios and characters: We have combined our linguistic and psychological approaches to answer specific questions about reference theory. More generally, we have built on Sanford and Garrod’s model of scenarios and scenario-dependent characters, as well as arguing that situation models need to take full account of the complexities of natural narrative texts.     Our empirical work so far has focused mainly on:

(i) The interpretation of antecedentless institutional “they” pronouns (e.g. ‘Maria went to the hospital and they took a blood sample’). We have used eye-tracking and ERP tests to show that these pronouns are particularly easy to process compared with singular antecedentless pronouns. This work has been conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging at the University of Glasgow.

(ii) We are examining the use of indefinite pronouns using story continuation tests, looking at how these expressions can either relate to minor scenario-dependent characters (e.g. “someone adjusted the screen”) or can stimulate significant interest (e.g. “Then somebody walked in. It was...”).

(iii) In collaborative work with Professor Yuki Fukudu, we have investigated the use of second person pronouns (“you”), examining how these pronouns are read in comparison with first and third person pronouns in narrative texts.

Publications, conferences, and other output for STACS and LINCS Projects

Book

Sanford, A.J. and Emmott, C. (2012), Mind, Brain and Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Articles (published and in press)

  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J., & Alexander, M. (in press). Rhetorical control of readers’ attention: Stylistic and psychological perspectives on foreground and background in narrative. In L. Bernaerts, D. de Geest, L. Herman, & B. Vervaeck (eds.), Minds and Stories. University of Nebraska Press. (To be published June 2013).
  • Emmott, C. & Sanford, A. J. (2012). Noticing and not noticing what’s in a text: Attention, depth of processing and text interpretation. In A.Głaz, H. Kowaleski, & A. Weremczuk (eds.), What’s in a Text: Inquiries into the Textual Cornucopia (pp. 6-19). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.
  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J., & Alexander, M. (2010). Scenarios, role assumptions, and character status: Readers’ expectations and the manipulation of attention in narrative texts. In F. Jannedis, R. Schneider, & J. Eder (eds.), Characters in Fictional Worlds: Understanding Imaginary Beings in Literature, Film and other Media (pp. 377-399), Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Emmott, C., & Alexander, M. (2010). Detective Fiction, plot construction, and reader manipulation: Rhetorical Control and Cognitive Misdirection in Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide, in D. McIntyre & B. Busse (eds.) Language and Style: In Honour of Mick Short (pp. 328-346), Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Emmott, C., & Alexander, M. (2009). Schemata. In P. Hühn, J. Pier, W. Schmid, & J. Schönert (Eds.), Handbook of Narratology (pp. 411-419). Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter (also published on the internet as the Living Handbook of Narratology by Hamburg University Press).
  • Sanford, A.J.S., Price, J., and Sanford, A.J. (2009) ‘Enhancement and Suppression: Effects resulting from information structuring in sentences, Memory and Cognition.
  • Ferguson, H.J., & Sanford, A.J. (2008). Anomalies in real and counterfactual worlds: An eye-movement investigation. Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 609-626.
  • Sanford, A.J., Filik, R., Emmott, C. and Morrow, L.I. (2008) ‘They’re digging up the road again: The processing cost of institutional “they”’, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 372-380.
  • Sanford, A.J. (2008) ‘Defining embodiment in understanding’ in M. de Vega, A.M. Glenberg, & A.C. Graesser (eds.) Symbols, Embodiment and Meaning, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 181-194.
  • Ferguson, H.J. and Sanford, A.J. (2008) ‘Anomalies in Real and Counterfactual Worlds: An eye-movement investigation’, Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 609-626.
  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J. and Dawydiak, E. (2007) ‘Stylistics meets cognitive science: Style in fiction from an interdisciplinary perspective’, Style (special issue on Style in Fiction, edited by G.N. Leech, and M.H. Short), 41, 2, 204-226.  
  • Sanford, A.J. and Filik, J. (2007) ‘“They” as a gender-unspecified singular pronoun: Eye tracking reveals a processing cost’, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60 (2), 171-178.
  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J. and Morrow, L.I. (2006a) ‘Capturing the attention of readers? Stylistic and psychological perspectives on the use and effect of text fragmentation in narratives”, Journal of Literary Semantics, 35:1, 1-30.
  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J. and Morrow, L.I. (2006b) ‘Sentence fragmentation: Stylistic aspects’ in K. Brown (ed.) Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd edition), Oxford: Elsevier, volume 11, 241-251. (6500 word article)
  • Emmott, C. (2006) ‘Reference: Stylistic aspects” in K. Brown (ed.) Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd edition), Oxford: Elsevier, volume 10, 441-450. (6500 word article)
  • Sanford, A.J.S, Sanford, A.J., Molle, J. and Emmott, C. (2006) ‘Shallow processing and attention capture in written and spoken discourse’, Discourse Processes, 42 (2), 109-130.
  • Sanford, A.J. and Graesser, A.C. (2006) ‘Introduction to special issue’, Discourse Processes (special issue on Shallow Processing and Underspecification, A.J. Sanford and A.C. Graesser (eds.)), 42 (2), 99-108.
  • Emmott, C. (2005) ‘Narrative comprehension’, D. Herman (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, London: Routledge, 351-352. (1000 word article)
  • Sanford, A.J., Sturt, P., Morrow L.I., Moxey, L.M. and Emmott, C. (2004) ‘Production and comprehension measures in assessing plural object formation’, M. Carreiras & C. Clifton (eds.), The On-Line Study of Sentence Comprehension: Eye-Tracking, ERP, and Beyond, Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 151-167.
  • Emmott, C., Sanford, A.J. and Morrow, L.I. (2003) ‘Towards a theory of reading in the age of cognitive science: Cross-disciplinary perspectives on narrative from stylistics and psychology’, Belgian Journal of English Language and Literatures, New Series I (Special Issue: J-P van Noppen, C. den Tandt and I. Tudor (eds.) Beyond: New Perspectives in Linguistics, Literary Studies and English Language Teaching), 17-29.

Conference papers (plenary)

  • Emmott (2014, forthcoming, April), Conference on Personal Pronouns in Linguistics and Stylistics, Lyon,  France.
  • Emmott (2013, forthcoming, October-November) Chongqing, China. International Cognitive Poetics, Conference.
  • Emmott (2013, forthcoming, June) International Workshop on Discourse Analysis (IWODA 2), University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
  • Emmott (2013, forthcoming, May) Courant Research Centre “Text Structures”, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany. Conference on “Text in Perspective: Processes and Interpretation”.
  • Emmott (2012) International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media (IGEL), Montreal, Canada. (Opening Keynote Lecture)
  • Emmott (2012) 3-day masterclass at the University of Lyon (“Language understanding, text processing and narrative worlds”).
  • Sanford (2011) Distinguished Scientist Award, Society for Text and Discourse, Poitiers, France.
  • Emmott (2010) “What’s in a text?” conference (IPLC), Plenary lecture, Lublin, Poland. Plenary lecture, “Noticing and not noticing what’s in a text: Attention, depth of processing, and text interpretation”.
  • Emmott (2010) Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Genoa, Italy.
  • Emmott (2009) International Conference on Minds and Narrative, Leuven, Belgium.
  • Emmott (2007) Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Huddersfield University, Mini-conference on Stylistics: Eclecticism and Interdisciplinarity.
  • Sanford (2007), Lorentz Center, University of Leiden, Workshop on ‘Brain Mechanisms and Cognitive Processes in the Comprehension of Discourse’
  • Emmott (2006) 9th International Conference on the Short Story in English, University of Lisbon, Portugal. Invited presentation for plenary round table on cognitive approaches to short fiction.
  • Emmott (2006) Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Lancaster University, Style in Fiction Symposium.
  • Sanford (2005) ‘The Garachico workshop: symbols, embodiment and meaning: A debate’, University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain.
  • Emmott (2004) Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Lancaster University, January 2004, Mini-conference on “Cognitive Stylistics/Poetics”.
  • Sanford (2003) Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, August 2003.
  • Emmott (2002) Belgian Association of Anglicists in Higher Education (BAAHE): “Beyond”: New Perspectives in Linguistics, Literary Studies and English Language Teaching, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium. (Opening plenary lecture.)

Conference papers (non-plenary)

  • Sanford, A.J.S., Price, and Sanford, A.J. (2009) Experimental Psychology Society (EPS), Leicester, England, U.K..
  • Bohan, Sanford, A.J., Leuthold, Fukudo, and Sanford A.J.S. (2009) Experimental Psychology Society (EPS), Leicester, England, U.K.
  • Emmott, Sanford and Smith (2008) Empirical Study of Literature(IGEL), University of Memphis, U.S.A
  • Fukuda and Sanford (2008) Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), University of Memphis, U.S.A.
  • Morrow, Emmott and Sanford (2007) Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), University of Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
  • Filik and Sanford (2007) Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), University of Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
  • Ferguson, Sanford, Leuthold and Scheepers (2007) Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D) , University of Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
  • Filik and Sanford (2007) Joint meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) and the Psychonomic Society, Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.
  • Filik, Sanford and Leuthold (2007) Cognitive Neuroscience Society, New York, U.S.A.
  • Ferguson, Sanford and Leuthold (2007) Cognitive Neuroscience Society, New York, U.S.A.
  • Ferguson, Sanford and Leuthold (2007), Workshop on ‘Brain Mechanisms and Cognitive Processes in the Comprehension of Discourse’, Lorentz Center, University of Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • Ferguson, Sanford, and Scheepers (2007) Scottish Psycholinguistics, University of Dundee, Scotland, U.K.
  • Ferguson, Sanford and Leuthold (2006) Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing (AMLaP), Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  • Filik, Sanford, Emmott, Morrow and Leuthold (2006) – Conference on Human Sentence Processing (CUNY), New York, U.S.A.
  • Emmott, Sanford, Dawydiak and Morrow (2006) - International Association for the Empirical Study of Literature (IGEL), Munich, Germany.
  • Filik, Sanford, Emmott, Morrow and Leuthold (2006) - Scottish Psycholinguistics, University of Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
  • Dawydiak, Sanford and Emmott (2006) - Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), Minneapolis, U.S.A.
  • Ferguson and Sanford (2005) – Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing (AMLaP), Ghent, Belgium.
  • Emmott, Sanford & Morrow (2005) - Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Huddersfield, England, U.K.
  • Sanford, Emmott, Filik and Morrow (2005) – Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  • Sanford, Morrow and Emmott (2003) – Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D), Madrid, Spain.
  • Emmott, Sanford and Morrow (2003) – Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA), Istanbul, Turkey.

 Invited department and other talks

  • Emmott (2013) – English Language Research Unit, University of Birmingham
  • Emmott (2012) – English Department, University of Strathclyde
  • Emmott (2012) – St. John’s College, University of Oxford, (sponsored by the Balzan Foundation)
  • Sanford (2010) – Psychology Department, University of Nottingham
  • Sanford (2008) – Psychology Department, University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Sanford (2007) – Psychology Department, University of Essex, England, U.K.
  • Sanford (2006) – Psychology Department, University College London, England, U.K.
  • Emmott (2004) – School of English, University of Liverpool, England, U.K.Emmott (2004) – School of English, University of Sheffield, England, U.K.

Other

Sanford was presented with the 2010 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award at the Society for Text and Discourse in 2011.

Sanford, Emmott, Alison Sanford and Linda Moxey organised the Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D) conference, July 2007.

Sanford organised a symposium on “The Neuroscience of Discourse” as part of the Society for Text and Discourse (ST&D) conference, July 2007.

Sanford edited a special issue of the journal Discourse Processes on shallow processing and underspecification (with Art Graesser) (2006, 42 (2))

Emmott’s 2006 PALA “Style in Fiction Symposium” plenary lecture has been web-streamed broadcast on the internet (2006), and is currently an internet resource on the PALA website (members’ area) and a student teaching resource at the University of Glasgow, University of Lancaster, State University of New York and University of British Columbia.