The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

Preface

No argument is presumably necessary for the mutual relevance of psychology and linguistics but the self-evidence of the connection is commensurate only with the difficulty encountered in actually establishing it. Garcia ( 1990, p. 301)

Word is a two-sided act, always suspended in meaning between speaker and listener. Volosinov ( 1976, p. 86)

This discussion is situated at the interface of psychology and linguistics where discourse, language, and grammar form the point of contact between the two disciplines. In this psychology, the importance of language as a dynamic, social interactive phenomenon in the development and daily life of the individual is highlighted. Its linguistics counterpart describes a child who is actively learning to use language for interpersonal and social purposes. This psychological and social approach to discourse pays close attention to the use of linguistic forms, bringing grammar to bear on questions of self and identity.

The theoretical basis within psychology for this book lies in what has been called the "second cognitive revolution" ( Harré, 1992a). The first cognitive revolution, in the 1960s, precipitated a shift away from behaviorism toward the study of cognition. Psychology was the study of mind as mental processes, as a central information-processing system behind what one says and does. Interestingly, Bruner, one of the main figures in the first movement, was also heavily involved in this later revolution. This time, things were proceeding against the psychology of the individual, the "myth of the mind": in philosophy, with Wittgenstein as the major influence, in sociology, in anthropology and the so-called "cultural psychology", in linguistics, but also with certain psychologists, including Bruner and Harré. This time around, the cognitive revolution is interested in the study of cognition "where it lives, in discourse, considered in a broad sense to include all sorts of symbolic manipulations according to rules" ( Harré 1992a, p. 7).

This book explores the role played by grammar in the construction of the child's social practices and in the construction of the self. This assumes that language helps to create reality, that some of the objects and events one talks about are constituted by the ways in which one speaks about them. Using certain linguistic forms or constructions (e.g., tense or aspect markings, voice, indexicals) actually brings about certain types of discourse and contexts. It has been proposed that certain characteristics of the self are maintained through language and this is a study of how these characteristics are actually brought about in part via modal utterances in autobiography.

Discourse in this approach amounts to more than the sum of its utterances.

-ix-

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