How do we become socialized as
children into the language
behaviours of our speech
Focus on personal narrative
language is learned through
interactions with others
Jerome Bruner, Catherine Snow
Vs. Innate perspective
Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker
Narrating and transmission of culture
Parent-child narratives are an
instrument for transmitting cultural
“Children’s narratives are ... a product of their
interactions with the adults around them, who
provide the framework not just for the
narrative, but for children’s construction of the
(Berko-Gleason & Melzi 1997:217)
Narrating in immigrant communities
Generational language shift.
Stories reflect transitioning values.
Immigrant families try to balance:
Parent-child storytelling is a socio-cultural
tool for this process.
From supported to independent
- guide the story organization.
- provide the basic elements of narrative they
expect to hear.
What are parents’ goals/agendas in this process?
- social / interactional?
- educational / instructional?
Berko-Gleason & Melzi (1997)
Parents’ interpretation of the narrative task
reflects more general values in the culture: -
- Latino mothers (Central America)
social behaviour & relationships
- Anglo-American mothers
independence and structure
- Hungarian Romani mothers
“blueprint of expectations”
Blum-Kulka & Snow 1992: Family dinner-table
conversation as narrative socialization context
• American families:
- ritual of ‘telling one’s day’
- focus on self: individualism & self-accomplishment
• Israeli families:
- collaborative stories
- shared family events in past
- collective ‘us’ as protagonists: group/family focus
Learning to produce a well-structured, coherent
text, in accordance with cultural norms.
In narrating our experiences, we construct simultaneously two
landscape of action
landscape of consciousness
European North American
• Temporally-sequenced (linear) plot.
• Factual, event-centred.
• Single experience.
• May begin with Abstract
Background (who, what, when, ongoing events)
Action sequence, culminating in Main Event
Resolution of problem
End statements- return to conversational present
Combines similar experiences into one thematically
Regularity in number of lines per stanza : + 4
a ‘good story’ = facts embellished with metaphors, jokes,
Poetic devices: repetition & parallelism.
Thematic coherence, rather than unity based on strict
chronology of events.
• Concise, succinct.
• Combine several experiences into one story.
• Regularity in number of lines per stanza: + 3
• Value the implicit over the explicit: elliptical style.
• Reflects parental input.
• Linked to aspects of culture.
• Similarity of narrative form to haiku
May be very few events.
Emphasis on descriptive info – esp. family/ social
Point of story: to connect with listeners by talking of these
relationships; events merely backdrop.
Reflects parental input.
Links with aspects of culture, incl. literature.
Heath: Ethnographic study of language
• Language & literacy behaviours in 2 rural communities:
- white working-class
- black working-class
• Norms for language socialization w.r.t.
- conversational interaction
- narrating stories
- consequences for schooling
Children in White, WC community
• Socialized to tell factual stories with a moral lesson.
• Relate events in sequence,
• stick to the facts,
• no elaborations.
Consequences for schooling:
• Non-fictive story
• Fictive story
Children in Black, WC community
Socialized to tell stories with a basis in fact,
but spiced with exaggeration (“junk”),
in which narrator overcomes the odds
through being clever, tough,
& ignoring conventional rules of behaviour.
Consequences for schooling