Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

21 1
FORM AND FUNCTION IN DEVELOPING NARRATIVE ABILITIES

Ruth A. Berman Tel Aviv University

The title of this chapter acknowledges the contribution of Susan Ervin-Tripp to the study of children's language. She started out by focusing on form, then moved on to function, with her current work reflecting an insightful integration between the two (e.g., in Ervin-Tripp, 1989). The present study considers the relationship between form and function in language acquisition and language development through analysis of the Hebrew morpheme ve, the counterpart of English and, in early conversational interaction and in the narratives of children aged 3 to 9 compared with adults.


1. FORM - FUNCTION RELATIONS

In this context, the term "form" refers to closed-class lexical items such as conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns; but it also applies to bound affixal morphemes, both inflectional and derivational (e.g., the English suffixes -ing or -ic(al)); to syntactic constructions such as relative clauses or passive voice; to syntactic operations such as left-dislocation or subject ellipsis; and to lexical expressions with modifying functions such as temporal adverbials, intensifiers, and floating operators like also, even. More problematic is the question of what constitutes a "function," in linguistic analysis as in the study of language development.2 The "function" of a linguistic form has been used to apply to any or all of the following: knowledge of discourse-sensitive factors such as maintaining and shifting reference, focus, and contrast q( Karmiloff-Smith, 1981; Wigglesworth, 1990); level

____________________
1
This chapter is a revised and extended version of a paper presented to the International Pragmatics Conference, Barcelona, July 1990. Collection of the longitudinal data was supported by a grant from the G.I.F., the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development to the author with Juergen Weissenborn of the Max-Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Holland. The Hebrew narrative materials are part of a project with Dan I. Slobin of the University of California at Berkeley, supported by the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Jerusalem, Israel, and the National Science Foundation. The chapter relies heavily on insights derived from work with Slobin in coauthoring a crosslinguistic study of narrative development ( Berman & Slobin, 1994).
2
The varied construals of this topic are reflected in the title of the special edition of the journal First Language devoted to "Functional Approaches to Child Language" ( Budwig, 1991). Very different approaches are articulated there from the point of view of developmental psycholinguistics by researchers dealing with the acquisition of verb categorization, passive voice, epistemic modals, and pronominal usage and from the perspective of linguistic analysis by Silverstein ( 1991) and Van Valin ( 1991). In the present study, the term "function" is used without commitment to a particular functionalist view of linguistic analysis (see, further, Nichols, 1984; Bates & MacWhinney, 1982).

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