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Coast Salish children's narratives : structural analysis from three perspectives Brighouse, Jean Alison


Narratives serve many functions within a given cultural group. As well as reflecting and transmitting the social values of that group, narratives provide children with a cognitive framework that is an important factor in the learning process. Although the structure of narratives has been described for mainstream children, there is some debate as to whether different cultures share the same narrative structure. A culturally-based difference in narrative structure may contribute to the fact that Native Indian children (as well as children from other minority cultures) are overrepresented among those children who have difficulty in school. The present study set out to investigate whether there was a discernable difference in the structure of narratives told by five Coast Salish children aged 5;0 -8;6 and those told by mainstream children reported in the narrative development research literature. Two types of narratives (personal experience and fictional) were collected and analyzed according to three analysis procedures: high point analysis, which emphasizes evaluation of events; episodic analysis, which emphasizes goal-based action; and poetic analysis, which emphasizes the poetic form of the narratives. The high point analysis revealed that the Coast Salish children ordered events in their stories in a different order than mainstream children do. Both the high point and the episodic analyses showed that the Coast Salish children expressed relationships between events implicitly more frequently than mainstream children. The poetic analysis was the most revealing of potential intercultural differences. This analysis revealed that falling intonation, grammatic closure, lexical markers and shifts in perspective (reference, action, focused participant, time frame, comment, etc.) defined structural units in the narratives of the Coast Salish children. This evidence of structural unit markers was consistent with predictions based on research by Scollon & Scollon (1981, 1984). The results of this investigation have implications for educators and speech-language pathologists in their interaction with Native Indian children. In addition, the results provide a useful indication of the necessary considerations and appropriate procedures for carrying out a more focused study of the narratives of a larger group of Native Indian children.

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