Voice and Expressivity in Free Indirect Thought Representations: Imitation and Representation



    Corresponding author
    1. School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, University of Salford, Manchester
    • Address for correspondence: School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences, University of Salford Manchester, Maxwell Building, Salford M5 4WT, UK.

      Email: d.blakemore@salford.ac.uk

    Search for more papers by this author

  • The research in this article was supported by a University of Salford research sabbatical and a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. I am extremely grateful to the anonymous Mind & Language referees whose constructive comments helped me write the version of the article presented here. I am also grateful to Fabrizio Gallai, Becci Jackson and Tim Wharton for their input. An abridged version of this paper was presented at the University of Manchester, and I am grateful to members of the audience for their comments. However, I am, of course, responsible for any errors that remain.


This article addresses issues in the philosophy of fiction from the perspective of a relevance theoretic approach to communication: first, how should we understand the notion of ‘voice’ as it is used in the analysis of free indirect style narratives; and, second, in what sense can the person responsible for free indirect representations of fictional characters' thoughts be regarded as a communicator?

The background to these questions is the debate about the roles of pretence and attribution in free indirect style. I argue that the role of expressives in sustaining the illusion that fictional characters speak their inner thoughts suggests that ‘voice’ should be understood in two distinct ways. On the one hand, there are cases in which the use of expressive devices leads to the formation of thoughts which are understood to resemble other (attributed) thoughts. On the other hand, there are other cases in which expressives are used as a means of simulating a fictional character's behaviour or style.

At the same time, I argue that in order to accommodate free indirect thought representation in a relevance theoretic model of communication, the responsibility for ensuring that the effort of processing the text will be rewarded by optimal relevance must be decoupled from the point of view that is being represented. While the (constructed) author is responsible for orchestrating our interpretation of free indirect thought representations so that the effort of processing will result in optimal relevance, the reader does not necessarily assume this function is being performed by someone who intends to communicate their own thoughts: the relevance of the act of narration may instead lie in the sense of mutuality achieved between reader and character.