Story Logic

Sat Apr 16, 2005

My review-essay, “Cognitive Storyworlds,” on David Herman’s Story Logic appears in the 38.1 edition of Style.

Here’s a paragraph which touches upon one of my current research interests:

One immediate example of this is what might be termed the ontological properties of narrative for Herman. What is the relation between narrative and language? The answer is that language is an “interface between narrative and cognition” (5). Whereas the theories of language and narrative are both modular components of cognitive science, language itself is not an autonomous cognitive function but is anterior to narrative. Herman cites Turner’s argument in The Literary Mind that language use originated through principles of narrative imaging or parable, rather than genetic specialization (Turner 140-68, qtd. in Herman 379 n. 18). The strongest argument for Chomsky’s notion of Universal Grammar is the “poverty of stimulus”: that children are able to distinguish grammatical from nongrammatical sentences on the basis of a limited and conflicting exposure and that this ability must thus be an aspect of cognitive development triggered by exposure to language (Chomsky 43). Herman rejects the idea that narratives have syntactical properties in this matter, stating that all “coding strategies” are permissible at the local level of narration (50). He substitutes the idea of “preference rankings” that determine the permissible sequences of states, events, and actions that compose narratives. While it is entirely acceptable that the narrative property would have different characteristics than language, it is an open question whether, if narrative is a modular property anterior to language, it must develop on the basis of the same limited evidence and thus be constrained by the same measure of lower-level syntacticality.

Chomsky, Noam. Rules and Representations. New York: Columbia UP, 1980. Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.