Children's individual approaches to the organization of narrative

G Wigglesworth
Journal of Child Language 1997, 24 (2): 279-309
This paper investigates the similarities and differences observed in individual approaches to the linguistic organization of narrative. Twenty subjects in each of five age groups (four, six, eight, ten years and adult) were asked to relate a narrative elicited from a picture book. All references to the animate characters in the book were coded for form (nominal/pronominal), and function (switch versus maintenance). Individual analyses of the narratives indicated that a variety of strategies were used across all age groups. Strategies identified included thematic subject, nominal and anaphoric. When the narrative was divided into segments based on the referential load of each segment, it was found that there was an interaction between the strategy adopted in the first segment, the age of the subject and the referential load of subsequent segments. A variety of strategies was adopted by all age groups although there were preferential trends observable within each group. The ability to maintain a strategy across the varying referential load of the narrative increased with age. Five developmental stages were identified from the analysis which enabled certain tentative predictions to be made about the way children approach a complex narrative task, suggesting that children pass through a number of stages which reflect their ability to organize the referential content of the narrative at differing speech levels.

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