The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

II
The Grammar of Autobiographical Narrative

Sentences, not words, are the essence of speech just as equations and functions, and not bare numbers, are the real meat of mathematics. Reference of words is at the mercy of the sentences and grammatical patterns in which the), occur. Whorf ( 1956, pp. 258-259)

We must be wary of treating grammatical considerations too formally, syntax is soaked in semantic presuppositions and meaning-making is a form of translation. Bruner ( 1995, p. 24)

Human conduct is a text and the inter-relationships among its parts are semantic rather than causal. Harré ( 1988, p. 4)

This section explores some of the additional linguistic structures selected as constitutive of autobiographical discourse, in order to describe "the nature of the verbal processes involved in the practical authorship of oneself" ( Shotter, 1993b, p. 189). This involves a type of variation analysis not usually used in psychological studies on language, what Schiffrin ( 1994) called an approach to discourse "based within a socially realistic linguistics" (p. 290). It involves describing patterns of speaking in context, in this case, in the context of a child asked to engage in autobiographical discourse, as a function of both linguistic and social factors. Both grammatical structure and discourse function are explored, which allows the integration of different aspects of language that most developmental psychologists interested in self-development have usually considered separately. Previous research suggesting that language plays a central role in the child's construction of self brought us to this point but the fact remains that little is known about this process.


A Grammatical Perspective on the Self

All the linguistic forms chosen for this study play a central role in constructing narrative insofar as they make it possible to situate narrative events in time, in space, and in relation to each other. Similarly, these are the forms that make it possible to situate or position the self in discourse: temporally, socially, and morally in relation to others. Bamberg's ( 1991) "'third' point of orientation from which events can be seen as having something in common" (p. 279) is very

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