The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

3
The Study: A Developmental Linguistic Investigation of Modal Auxiliaries in Children's Autobiographical Accounts

This is a developmental study based on cross-sectional data from three age groups: 5-, 8- and 12-year-olds. These three age groups constitute the main independent factor of the study across the various comparisons made on grammatical forms, semantic meanings, discourse functions, and the development of narrative ability in general.


Narrators

Age 5 was chosen as the starting point in contrast to the majority of languagebased studies that deal with much younger children and that presume that by the age of 5, the child's language system is relatively stable with only increases in vocabulary and some of the more complex sentential constructions still to be achieved. However, we know that even at 12 ( Coates, 1988), the system is not necessarily fully commensurate with an adult's. Steingart and Freedman ( 1972, p. 135) have shown that language growth is not uniform and that there are statistically significant increases at at least two developmental points: around age 5 to 7 and age 11 to 13. This type of study is not intended as a demonstration of the ways in which the child's language is different or deficient compared to the adult's, but rather we are interested in the highly idiosyncratic distinctions, perspectives, and functions achieved by the grammatical forms chosen by the child to do the work in her or his autobiography. It was important that the children had a certain level of competence and were using all the modal auxiliaries in their everyday speech and discourse. Different age groups were studied not so much with a view to being able to plot or chart distinct developments in the modal auxiliaries with age but rather because it was thought that different presentations of self might be in operation at these (st)ages, and my primary interest therefore was to see if the children's modal usage could be said to reflect this. The point is not to assess whether or not the children "have" these modal auxiliaries. The focus is on forming a picture of how, at what point, and with what set of intentions children use these forms when engaged in autobiographical discourse. The choice of age groups to investigate was also informed by the many critical functions that research has shown are in place by age 5 in terms of grammatical and narrative development. Around 5 years or so,

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