The Construction of Emotional Involvement in Everyday German Narratives – Interactive Uses of 'Dense Constructions'

Susanne Günthner


This paper investigates ways in which participants in everyday German narratives construct emotions as social phenomena; i.e. in particular, how they organize and communicate emotional involvement. I will argue that contextualizing emotions and affects permeates various levels of linguistic and interactional structures – even grammar: Participants in everyday German storytelling use specific syntactic patterns as resources for indexing affective stances and making past events interpretable and emotionally accessible to their co-participants. The analysis concentrates on particular syntactic resources (such as averbal constructions, infinite constructions, minimal syntactic phrases etc.) used to contextualize affect and emotion. Instead of treating these 'dense constructions' (e.g. averbal constructions "I:CH (.) mit meinen sachen rAuf, […] ICH (-) wieder rUnter,"; 'me (.) with my stuff upstairs, […] me (-) down again,') as elliptic structures and conceptualizing them as incomplete or reduced sentence patterns, this study explores the specific forms and functions of 'dense constructions' in interactive usage. I will argue that 'dense constructions' – even though they do not follow the rules of the grammar of Standard German – represent conventionalized patterns participants use to fulfil various communicative tasks in specific communicative genres. In producing such 'fragmentary gestalts', conversationalists index sudden, reflex-like actions, and thus, stage dramatic, emotionally loaded events for their co-participants to "re-experience" (Goffman 1974/1986: 506).

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