Narrative Grammar Workshop
for The University of Akron School of Law Writing Center
Prepared for students in the Legal Writing & Research classes, from personal research in legal writing and linguistics
Tabitha MartinVenture Advisor & Comma Expert à LaunchNET Kent State University
3. “story requires that the speaker remove
himself for the telling’s duration from
the alignment he would maintain in
ordinary conversational give and
take, and for this period of narration
maintain another footing, that of
Goffman, Erving. “Footing.” Forms of Talk. 1981
4. “The Plot Thickens: The Appellate Brief as Story”
Kenneth D. Chestek
Margaret and Francie
Old York’s statue
Key Facts of
Margaret Rubin and
Francie Kohler have a
son, Johnny (borne by
Francie is killed,
leaving no will
Francie’s mother does
not want Johnny
7. Margaret and
devoted to their
could not have
Do you have sensation words in
State of Mind
Kuroda, S-Y. “Where Epistemology, Style, and Grammar
Meet: A Case Study from Japanese.” 1973
8. Which camera angle do you want
Susumo Kuno: Functional Syntax: Anaphora, Discourse and Empathy
9. Empathy resides with the subject
of the sentence.
How many sentences start
with your client?
Syntactic Prominence Principle
10. Sentence subject NP
No. of Sentences
Margaret, Francie, or both
Office of Children & Youth (OCY), Delia (caseworker)
Superior Court of Old York
Francie’s mother, Stella
State, Old York
Syntactic Prominence Principle
“Signs of a shift to a
-Palacas, Arthur. “Parentheticals and Personal Voice.” 1989
12. “The best interest
“... they decided,
of the child, the
as do many
touchstone in all
couples, that they child custody
cases, is not even
wanted to raise a
Be careful—it’s subtle.
Don’t overdo it!
The voice of the writer/narrator inserted
into the narrative
14. • State of Mind
Notes de l'éditeur
We can generally recognize the difference between a “communicative act”—which takes place between a first-person “I” speaker and a second-person “you” hearer—and a STORY—a “narrative act”– whose aim is to relate a point of view. In English, we often find that the constructs are quite implicit: that we recognize their effects without noticing their form. We are going to talk about those forms today: how to see them and use them in your own writing in order to draw in your reader to your client’s story, i.e. try to get them to experience that story, similar to how a fiction writer involves you in a novel.
Back to communication vs. narrative in writing: The first sentence is from the example brief. Notice how when it’s contrasted with the second sentence, you can recognize the narrative quality of it and the contrast shows how much more powerful it is persuasively. The second sentence takes the force of wanting away from Margaret and Francie, and places the emphasis on the argument that they wanted a child.
Kuroda used his native Japanese to easily illustrate the differences in the use of adjectives that show emotion or sensation: there is no grammatical way to use such adj with a 2nd or 3rd person pronoun in Japanese--because then the speaker would be representing the “feeler”--which is what a storyteller does: represents the character (writer “puts on” the persona and “feels”). The legal writer tries to act as storyteller-- to bring the experience of his “characters” closer to the reader. Make your client a living, feeling human being.
The role of the persuasive writer is like that of a movie director, deciding which is the best perspective from which to tell the story. Where writers grammatically place their “cameras” influence where the reader’s empathy will most likely lie.He outlines various linguistic principles that support this idea. Three of them are particularly relevant to us in our writing.
FIRSTThe writer gives “syntactic prominence” to the person that he wants the reader to empathize with. Empathy resides with the subject of the sentence.
In the example brief, a full HALF of the sentences start with the empathetic subjects.
Commenting on the action--the contrast of the interruptive quality of the narrator’s “voice” brings the narrative quality more sharply into focus.TWO KINDS: If you’ve heard me talk about commas, you’ve probably heard me talk about interruptive parentheticals. There are also adverbial & adjectival parenthetical structures.
Subtle way that the narrator/writer can “direct” the emotional effect on the readerEVALUATIVE ADVERBS*grammatically unnecessary; persuasively significant*