The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

2
Modal Auxiliaries, Subjectivity and the Self

Saying what happened is an angle of saying, the angle of saying is what is important. Heaney ( 1991)

Any human language primarily functions to allow speakers to take various perspectives/viewpoints on the world. Gee ( 1990, p. 77)

This section outlines why the modal auxiliaries are a particularly useful grammatical class from which, and with which, to explore the relation between our use of language and the construction of the self. This involves describing the form-function relation of the modals as a way of discovering the child's discursive interests as he or she emplots himself or herself in an autobiographical storyline. Why autobiography? Because as Harré⊥ ( 1983) puts it "the autobiographical belief system of a person constitutes the central core of the psychologically researchable features of personal identity" (p. 42). And because "autobiography is a re-enactment in language of the development of the self" ( Eakin, 1974, p. 213). So why use the modal auxiliaries to study this relation?


Back to Formalism Versus Functionalism1

This book is part of a movement that is "searching for the relationship between social and interpersonal factors in children's real-life communication and their development of meaning and form in a language" ( Guo, 1994, p. 880). A growing number of theorists have abandoned the theoretical framework that has dominated linguistic research since the 1960s. And although coming from different backgrounds with different problems to solve, they all reject the two main tenets of Chomskyan linguistics: namely, the separateness and specialness of language ( Chomsky's hypothesized innate mental organ) and the modularity of different types of linguistic information, syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology ( Harris, 1989, p. 1).

The modal auxiliaries are analyzed using a functionalist style approach that explains the structures of language in terms of the communicative discourse

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1
Functionalist-organizational explanations claim that formal properties have their functional origins in actual communication ( Guo, 1994, p. 9). Formal-structural explanations on the other hand define structures and associated constraints. Their key characteristic is that they are not temporal ( Shanon, 1993).

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