The Privilege of Narrative for the Study of Developmental Processes

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Fennell, Jaelyn
Pershing, Arianna
Family talk surrounds young language-learning children. This speech may be parsed into many types of events and practices including personal narrative and topic-centered conversations. Personal narrative is robustly practiced and highly valued by caregivers (Miller et al., 2005; Miller et al., 1990). Narrative exacts more representational demands on the young child (Sperry & Sperry, 2000) since it involves topics not situated in the here-and-now. Narrative is also a significant intermediary skill between vocabulary development and emergent literacy skills (Curenton & Justice, 2004; National Reading Panel, 2000; Rowe, 2012). This study asks if family narrative talk confers any advantage in terms of language and discourse acquisitions compared to family talk that is not narrative. We have begun identifying episodes of topic-centered speech that are grounded in here-and-now topics to compare these episodes with narratives identified from the same corpus. We are working with verbatim transcripts from 67.5 hours of observations of 15 European American toddlers (ages 24 to 42 months) living in rural Indiana work-class families. Episodes of topic-centered, here-and-now talk were coded for the number of events, states, and goals they include to facilitate comparison of these discourse elements with the narratives. Preliminary results suggest that these elements occur more frequently in narrative, suggesting that narrative is privileged as a medium for discourse acquisition and is potentially optimal for the acquisition of other developmental constructs.