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What Is Free Indirect Speech?

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  • Written By: Geisha A. Legazpi
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2016
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Free indirect speech, or free indirect discourse, is a unique method of storytelling. It is a way of combining a first-person point of view with a third-person point of view, but removes such expressions that introduce a person. The narrator would usually voice out the thoughts and dialogue of a character without the usage of the usual dialogue indicators like quotation marks. The third person in free indirect speech is about referring to a character while still staying as a separate individual. As a separate individual, there is an intimate knowledge of what the character being referred to is feeling or thinking.

In one example, a person looking at two people that have met in a bar is simply observing them while providing commentary and comical dialogue to a friend on the phone. Direct speech would read as: “He went to the girl and thought that he lucked out. He said to the girl, ‘Hi, I am Random Guy, randomly talking to random girls’.” With indirect speech, however, it would read as: “He went to the girl and thought that he lucked out. He introduced himself as Random Guy that talks to random girls.”

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With free indirect speech, however, it would read as: “He went to the girl and thought that he lucked out. He is Random Guy, and he talks randomly to random girls.” In this case, the person who is describing the event and the characters is putting the thoughts and dialogue of the Random Guy into speech. In literary works, the novel "Emma," which was written by the famous English novelist Jane Austen, is a good example of free indirect speech.

Writers, especially novelists, often like to use free indirect speech as a way to blur the line between the character and the thoughts and dialogue of the storyteller. One way to distinguish whether a writer has used this literary technique is to see if there are a lot of third-person singular words like “he” or “she” added to a sentence that describes a first-person point of view. Many linguists and literary scholars have described free indirect speech, sometimes termed as free indirect style, as a mode of representation of speech and thought that uses peculiar grammar features and writing makeup. This has paved a way for modern authors to diversify their work for a more compelling story.

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