Tuesday, 26 November 2013

ABC blog: D

See previous entries A B C 

D is for dubitative. I coined this term in my co-authored book How Picturebooks Work, because I needed to describe a phenomenon when the words and images use different modality. Modality is a linguistic and philosophical concept implying the contingency of truth in a proposition. In plain English: do the words – or the images – encourage you to believe that the events and situations described are really happening or is there some element that suggests hesitation? Modal verbs such as “may” and adverbs such as “perhaps” create this uncertaintly. But of course a picturebook text does not directly tell you that something is perhaps happening and perhaps not at all, that perhaps the character is dreaming or pretending or even lying. That's where images are superior because they can contain something that very clearly shows that the events are make-believe.

In my third year in university I wrote a dissertation on modal verbs because at that time I was a linguist. The modality I was particularly interested in was necessitative: verbs such as “must”, “should”, and “ought”. At least I called it necessitative, and my professor approved, although Wikipedia is of a different opinion. I quit my linguistic pursuits for non-academic reasons, but my solid foundation is still there, and when I needed to describe what happened in the tension between words and images in picturebooks, I remembered my modalities. For instance, I needed a term for wishful thinking: words say that something is happening while images clearly show that it is pure imagination, or the other way round. I found the term I needed for this: optative. But I also needed a term for the case when the tension was unresolved, when the interpretation is up to the reader or viewer. Comparative grammar suggested dubitative, and dubitative it became. 

I haven't seen the terms used by any other scholars, which surprises me because they are really helpful. Of course the modality that tells you that everything is as it seems to be is indicative.

D is also for death which, as I have stated repeatedly, is the most prominent theme in children's literature, since growing up inevitably leads to reflections on death and mortality.

D is also for dystopia, and I published my first article on dystopia in children's literature in 1997, long before the current massive trend. Some of the texts I discussed in this early article were Swedish and Norwegian. I have returned to the subject several times, but it has become so trivial that I have lost interest, except second-hand, through my students' work.

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