ABSTRACT. Labov’s (1972) model for the analysis of narrative macrostructure of stories relating personal experiences has been suggested as a possible universal measure of narrativity and has been applied to a variety of narratives. It has not, however, been used to investigate popular science. This article suggest that by applying Labov’s (1972) model to popular science narratives of discovery it is possible to see the underlying universal structure of these narratives. Using a corpus-based approach, this study analyses 62 popular science narratives of discovery published in 2011. As a result, it becomes evident that popular science narratives while conforming to the universal narrative structure outlined by Labov are more structurally complex than the narratives of personal experience. Popular science narratives of discovery exhibit a more developed secondary (scaffolding) structure than the narratives of personal experience. This complexity results in a more flexible arrangement of narrative elements than envisioned by Labov. The analysis also demonstrates the presence of a new structural element that is not part of the original model but is essential to the narratives of discovery. The structural complexity of the popular science narratives of discovery does not inhibit the understanding of the narrative by a lay audience. To the contrary, it enhances the reader engagement properties of the narrative and demonstrates the authors’ awareness of the lay readers’ needs. The application of Labov’s (1972) model to the recently produced texts outside the realm of the personal experience narrative confirms the universality of the framework and demonstrates its continuous ability to provide valuable insight. pp. 7–28

Keywords: popular science; narrative macrostructure; reader engagement; narrative of discovery; discourse analysis; scientific writing

How to cite: Pilkington, Olga A. (2017), “Structural Complexity of Popular Science Narratives of Discovery as an Indicator of Reader-awareness: A Labov-inspired Approach,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 16: 7–28.

Received 21 November 2015 • Received in revised form 10 January 2016
Accepted 10 January 2015 • Available online 1 February 2016


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English Department,
Dixie State University

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