Interpreting the Nahuat Dialogue on the Envious Dead with Jerome Bruner's Theory of Narrative


  • James M. Taggart


The Nahuat of Huitzilan de Serdán, Mexico, engage in an oral dialogue about the envious dead who kill children with envy sickness. In this article, I present recorded portions of this dialogue to evaluate Jerome Bruner's hypotheses on the relationship between thought and emotion as they apply to an oral culture. The recorded dialogue reveals some of the ways that words for emotional states, such as envy or nexicol, acquire their meaning through “attunement” between the narrator and the audience. I argue that a fuller consideration of oral genres, a staple of folktale scholarship, and the use of psychoanalytic theory would add to the potential of Bruner's theory for understanding how emotion words such as envy acquire their meaning in an oral culture.