The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

III
Constructing a Narrative Identity

Grammar is not necessary and sufficient for meaning. Situations, context, history and a form of life all play a part. Genova ( 1995, p. 120)

The child's work on a word is not finished when its meaning is learned. Vygotsky ( 1987, p. 322)

To correlate discourse choices directly with social categories is to abstract away from the real reason language choices are made: In service of the expression of and creation of self. Johnstone ( 1996, p. 89)

The grammatical analysis was to establish the construction of autobiographical discourse, the material resource of the modal auxiliaries in the narratives. Now for the function of this construction, in which discourse function refers to the intention of the speaker with regard to the addressee.1 The self is both the object and the subject of autobiographical discourse and the functions associated with talk about the self are the expression, the assessment and the evaluation of that self. Modal structures are similarly always an evaluation of one sort or another.2 Therefore, in the context of autobiography, a modal utterance can be mined for how speakers are evaluating what they are talking about, namely, themselves.

All the children told stories.3 As soon as we are asked about ourselves, to tell our autobiography, we start to tell stories. We tell what happened, what we said, what we did. But our identities are not only influenced by past events and situations and their consequences but also by how we interpret and talk about them now, retroactively, and by how we feel and think about the future. In the same way that the narrator organizes the elements of her or his story in a certain

____________________
1
The term discourse function is used in the sense of interpersonal or affective function as discussed by Guo ( 1994, p. 212) and Lyons ( 1977, pp. 50-51), that is, how the speaker intends to influence the mental state or behaviour of the addressee.
2
Modal structures are "combinations of modal relationships between the enunciator and the actants appearing in the utterance." They always imply an evaluation if modalities are seen as intersubjective relationships rather than logical categories ( Sülkunen & Torrönen, 1997, p. 54).
3
Emotional closeness of narrative to children's worlds, especially in traditional form (e.g., fairy tales): "narrative as a type of discourse in which children can easily insert or articulate their own point of view" ( Pontecorvo, 1994, p. 144). Early mastery of the "grammar of stories".

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