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Impossible ‘I’ – analysing the meaning of ‘things that speak’

When an author constructs a text that presents an inanimate object as speaker, this choice of “prosopopoeia”, a rhetorical figure “by which things are made persons” (Walker, 1791), results in marked linguistic features and foregrounds questions of reality and authorial status. This presentation uses systemic functional and cognitive linguistic approaches to outline how the eponymous ‘things’ of two literary works, the Old English ‘Dream of the Rood’ and the classic novel The Story of the Stone (Cao Xueqin, 1973), are made to speak. The analysis, drawn from a larger survey of personification in language, literature and cultural artefacts, can also be used to support a contemporary pedagogical application.

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