Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“Readers as Overhearers and Texts as Objects: Joint Attention in Reading Communities.” SCRIPTA, vol. 18, no. 34.

Models of language that emphasize the interactive dimension of meaning construction tend to talk about published texts such as the novel as an arena of language use in which writers and readers occupy the positions of speaker and addressee. This paper argues that readers of published texts function in many ways more like overhearers than addressees. It uses tools from Conversation Analysis and Mental Spaces Theory to examine several case study interactions, drawn from the Michigan Corpus of Spoken Academic English and videotaped data from gesture research, as well as illustrative examples from literary history. The overhearer model that emerges suggests that the interactions between different readers of the same text are a more important locus of collaboration in literary discourse than is typically assumed, and shows that joint activities between readers also often exclude authors in interesting and important ways.