Speech-bundles in the 19th-century English novel

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  • University of Nottingham


We propose a lexico-grammatical approach to speech in fiction based on the centrality of ‘fictional speech-bundles’ as the key element of fictional talk. To identify fictional speech-bundles, we use three corpora of nineteenth century fiction that are available through the corpus stylistic web application CLiC. We focus on the ‘quotes’ subsets of the corpora i.e. text within quotation marks, which is mostly equivalent to direct speech. These quote subsets are compared across the fiction corpora and with the spoken component of the BNC1994. The comparisons illustrate how fictional speech-bundles can be described on a continuum from lexical bundles in real spoken language to repeated sequences of words that are specific to individual fictional characters. Typical functions of fictional speech-bundles are the description of interactions and interpersonal relationships of fictional characters. While our approach crucially depends on an innovative corpus linguistic methodology, it also draws on theoretical insights into spoken grammar and characterisation in fiction in order to question traditional notions of realism and authenticity in fictional speech.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-353
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • CLiC, Characterisation, Corpus linguistics, Lexical bundles, Nineteenth century fiction, Realism, Spoken grammar