Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Narration and Narrative in L2 Speakers of Russian

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Narration and Narrative in L2 Speakers of Russian

Article excerpt

Abstract: The researcher examined 54 oral proficiency interviews (OPIs) with L2 Russian speakers ranging from Intermediate High through Superior (predominantly Advanced Mid) for narrative as defined by Labov. Descriptors adapted from episodic analysis were also used. While the author found that OPIs provided relatively weak prompts for narrative, Superior speakers provided complex episodes more readily than did speakers at lower levels. While the author found paragraphed narration throughout the Advanced range, narrative episodes consisted largely of stative accounts of events, often accompanied by evaluation, rather than punctual actions. Attempts at complete episodic narration at Advanced Mid and lower levels sometimes resulted in evidence of additional cognitive load or breakdown. The researcher concluded that narrative, as opposed to narration, is an emerging skill at the Advanced level.

Key words: Russian, aspect, narration, narrative, SLA

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Consider Felicia's1 description of her first day in a foreign country, in France. Felicia was rated an Advanced Mid speaker of Russian on the ACTFL scale.

Without doubt this is a narration, a recounting of events in past time in a way that any native listener could easily follow. Such discourse matches the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (ACTFL, 1999) for Advanced speakers, who narrate and describe in all time frames in paragraphed discourse.

But is narration the same as narrative? Does the ability to narrate a sequence of events in paragraphed format mean that such speakers can produce narrative?


A narration is an accounting of events in paragraphed form, but narratives are more than that: ''accounts of events from a very human point of view'' (Deese, 1983a, p. xiii). Narratives require agentivity and a narrator's perspective (Bruner, 1990, p. 77). Longacre (1983, p. 5) equated narratives with prophecies (projective) and stories (nonprojective), set apart from other types of monologue discourseFprocedural discourse (e.g., instructions), behavioral (e.g., hortatory discourse or eulogies), or expository discourse (e.g., a budget proposal or a scientific paper).

Labov and Waletzky (1967) and Labov (1972) laid the foundations for narrative as defined by six components: (1) an initial abstract or summary, (2) an orientation to set up the time and place of the action, (3) the complicating actionsFplot development, (4) a resolution, (5) evaluationFcommentary on the salient parts of the narrative, and, optionally, (6) a coda linking the story to the real world. These components form part of the framework of the current study.

Narration vs. Narrative: ACTFL Paragraphed Discourse

In the ACTFL sense, a narration is a paragraph, a piece of oral text featuring cohesive devices, that sets forth a series of events. The ACTFL guidelines state that Advanced Low speakers provide ''narrations and descriptions, [in which they] combine and link sentences into connected discourse of paragraph length. When pressed for a fuller account, they tend to grope and rely on minimal discourse. Their utterances are typically not longer than a single paragraph'' (ACTFL, 1999, p. 113). Those descriptors cast doubt as to whether an Advanced Low speaker could muster the cohesion for a true narrative.

The description for Advanced Mid opens the door for true narrative: Speakers ''demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe [. . .] by providing a full account, with good control of aspect, as they adapt flexibly to the demands of the conversation. Narration and description tend to be combined and interwoven to relate relevant and supporting facts in connected, paragraphlength discourse'' (ACTFL, 1999, p. 112; emphasis added).

Even given that set of parameters, the ACTFL Advanced Mid description permits a scenario in which a speaker, given the opportunity to provide narrative, would opt for straightforward factual narration. …

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