30.10.2020, 14:00 - 18:00

Originally scheduled for May 2020, but postponed due to COVID-19

Abstracts of the Two Plenaries

The pragmatics of fictional dialogues in improvised performance

Daniela Landert, University of Basel

Spontaneous conversation bears many traces of the fact that it was produced without options for revision and editing. They include, for instance, hesitation markers, false starts, overlaps and repetitions. Such markers of spontaneous language production can also be found in the dialogues of scripted fiction, despite the fact that, in this context, they are not due to the cognitive constraints of real-time language production. Instead, they tend to be deliberately used to fulfil functions that are specific to literary genres, such as evoking a sense of authenticity, contributing to characterisation, creating humour, and marking authorial style. Despite a considerable body of linguistic research comparing markers of spontaneity in conversation and fiction, the relation between these different sets of functions has not been thoroughly explored yet. What are the processes through which linguistic characteristics that are associated with spontaneous language production acquire their functions in scripted fiction?

In a new research project, funded for five years through an SNF PRIMA grant, we are addressing this question. In this project, we analyse dialogues from improvised theatre and compare them to spontaneous conversation and scripted fiction. Improvised theatre is spontaneously produced as well as fictional, which means that it shares similarities with both spontaneous conversation and scripted fiction. As I will illustrate with the results from two case studies, this makes it possible to observe typical markers of linguistic spontaneity with either of the two types of functions within one set of data. Moreover, improvised theatre even includes instances of spontaneity markers that combine both types of functions. By studying such instances, we are able to show how typical functions of fictional discourse are developed out of spontaneous language use.

War on Terror Fiction and the Politics of Fear: Writing the Post-9/11 Condition

Michael C. Frank, University of Zurich

This talk provides a glimpse of my ongoing research into literary explorations of the post-9/11 condition, which is part of a larger research project on cultures of fear.

Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks, then US President George W. Bush notoriously declared a war on “terror.” The implication of this striking choice of terminology was that the war in question would attempt to eliminate the fear created by terrorist networks and their supporters. From its inception, however, the “war on terror” was itself embedded in a politics of fear: while the military campaigns launched in the name of countering terrorism ostensibly served to enhance domestic security, their accompanying discourse painted the threat of terrorism in the most lurid colours – and hence did everything to increase the prevailing sense of insecurity. This is reflected in Ian McEwan’s early 2005 novel Saturday, in which the thoughts of London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne revolve around the likelihood of another terrorist attack.

Whereas Saturday approaches the post-9/11 preoccupation with (in)security from the point of view of a highly privileged white Briton, more recent Anglophone fiction, such as Kamila Shamsie’s widely celebrated 2017 novel Home Fire, focuses on those who find themselves on the receiving end of counterterrorism efforts. Home Fire, too, engages with the culture of fear surrounding terrorism, yet it does so from the point of view of those who are the object of that fear. As the novel demonstrates, members of the “suspect community” of British Muslims bear the brunt of anti-terrorism legislation. In this way, Home Fire complements earlier literary explorations of the post-9/11 condition by giving a voice to a previously underrepresented “other” and throwing a critical light on contemporary politics, which has used the war on terror to legitimise draconian measures taken in the name of domestic security.


Contact Person

Prof. Dr. Anita Auer


More Infos





Lecture by Daniela Landert (University of Basel)
“The pragmatics of fictional dialogues in improvised performance”


Lecture by Michael C. Frank (University of Zurich)
“War on Terror Fiction and the Politics of Fear: Writing the Post-9/11 Condition”


Coffee break