William Labov: The Language of Life and Death

Transformation of Experience in Oral Narrative

William Labov, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, speaks on the language of life and death and the importance of oral storytelling modes. His talk begins with a series of oral narratives dealing with the escalation of violence, confrontation with death, and communication with the dead. Given the interest and attention generated by these narratives, an account is presented on the linguistic techniques that are used to maintain credibility towards the most reportable events. Further analysis is provided for the devices used to assign praise and blame, in a way consistent with the moral stance of the narrator. This can either polarize or integrate the participants in the action. The question is then raised as to whether the same techniques and skills can be found in epic and historical narrative.

Labov serves as director of the University of Pennsylvania's Linguistics Laboratory and is co-editor of Language Variation and Change and the Journal of Dialect Geography.