Iconicity −structural analogies between domains of meaning and the domain of linguistic form− has been a central concern of cognitive linguistic research from the beginning, and has recently been witnessing a much wider renewed interest (cf. Dingemanse et al., in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2016). In this talk, I adopt a view of iconicity as a process (viz. simulation), and apply it to the representation of the speech and thoughts of characters in narratives (“STR”, short for “Speech and Thought Representation”), i.e. as the depiction, in this case: ‘staging’, of verbal actions, in the sense of Clark (in Psychological Review, 2016). Dialogue, including inner dialogue, in a narrative is straightforwardly analyzed as a depiction of a verbal act in order to convey a message that is relevant at that point in the story. Since the mechanism of staging is universally available as a non-conventional tool for communication among humans, so-called Direct Discourse (DD, the staging of an utterance) is universally available to story-tellers in any language. In this perspective, a fundamental question arises about the status of so-called Indirect Discourse (ID, in languages that have a recognizably distinct way of expressing it, cf. Evans, on a canonical approach to quotation, 2013): Is it the opposite of depiction (as the terminology may suggest), i.e. the description, symbolically rather than iconically, of what is on a character’s mind, or is it something else? I will argue that in fact, it is definitely not ‘pure’ description, and that it only differs to some degree from other forms of STR that have traditionally been recognized, in narratology and discourse studies, as ‘mixed’ (involving both character and narrator responsibility). As a consequence, it is not theoretically meaningful to subdivide languages into those with and those without ID. In all linguistic communities, the depiction of verbal acts, i.e. DD, is possible, and all other ways of construing what is on a character’s mind involve combinations of depictive (iconic) and descriptive (symbolic) components, so-called ID being one of them in some languages.
I will provide some empirical considerations supporting this view, and explore some interesting consequences for a) cross-linguistic research into perspective management in narratives, b) the order of children’s acquisition of linguistic tools for such perspective management and possibly of their Theory of Mind, c) the cultural evolution of conventional linguistic tools in this domain out of non-conventional ones.