« Ask not for whom the admiral cooed | Main | Back in Singapore »

December 31, 2003


Dell Adams

Advantage: Kotsko!

Timothy Burke

I'm always afraid I'm going to bore both non-parents and old-timer parents with these kinds of things, but I'm equally fascinated right now with the same approximate phenomenon. There's a sort of modular sense of narrative I hear with Emma's stories now, a series of episodes chained together with various linking words. Every time I think she's just free-associating, she'll suddenly link up a module with something that came five minutes ago in the story. I think a lot of the time she's both experimenting with the structure of narrative and its meaning, and that any given episode of story-telling winds in and out of both purposes.

They sure do come up with some interesting stuff that makes your ears tingle a bit when you hear it. The latest one that really grabbed my attention was the story that opened, somewhat ominously, with "He is the passenger dog. He shows us the signs" and proceeded from there to loop back to that phrase and theme a number of times with detours for other animals, food consumption, family members associated with various verbs, several television characters, descriptions of book reading, and a few first-person episodes.


The development of storytelling is fascinating stuff, all right. In attempting an entirely new use for language, the toddler seems to concentrate on the *differences* between that use and other uses, rather than on incidentals such as believability or motivation or coherence.

M. Orsolini, "Episodic structure in children's fantasy narratives": "...the problem of linking verbal information is solved differently in real narratives vs. fantasy stories. The former typically occur in dialogue: shared knowledge between the speakers' memories of the events to be narrated, and conversational cooperation between speakers facilitate the problem of explicating pieces of verbal information and their linkage. By contrast, fantasy storytelling typically occurs in monologues and... in settings in which the teller is expected to challenge the audience and show his or her own ability. ...fantasy narratives require the extension of the discourse topic without relying on conversational cooperation, but using decontextualisation and formal speech."

B. Leondar, "Hatching Plots: Genesis of Storymaking": "Perhaps the clearest signal transmitted by the young storymaker to his audience is... the fictional status of his communiqué....the artifice of the plot; the distancing of events; the storymaker's absence from the tale, even as commentator; the removal of events, through use of the past tense, to some remote other time.... Although occasional primary narratives produced by the youngest children omit the [story] frame entirely, more commonly the frame appears well in advance of the full narrative, and its use persists often beyond the tenth birthday. Its introductory form allows little variation; 'once,' 'one day,' 'there was,' and 'once upon a time' virtually exhaust the alternatives. The conclusion... permits wider inventiveness. Written stories are almost invariably marked 'The End,' and spoken stories frequently conclude with 'That's all.' 'Lived happily ever after' and its inverse, 'were never seen again' [rarely occur] before the age of six or seven. Most often, stories are rounded off by an event which poses a natural temporal or spatial boundary, coming home or going to bed being the most frequent.... The capacity to distinguish fiction from experience and playful from purposeful discourse is a substantial intellectual attainment which the frame both records and protects."

Jeremy Osner

I wonder the same thing when I'm listening to Sylvia's narrations. She clearly understands the difference between (a) talking, (b) factual narrative, (c) fantasy narrative -- and uses a different voice for (c) than for the other two -- I wonder what she is thinking about when she does it. Her stories always (?) start, "Once upon a time" and are usually pretty short. Actually there is another category, somewhere in between (b) and (c), which is quasi-factual narrative about her fantasy friends -- she uses her regular voice and does not say "once upon a time" but she knows she's making shit up. She uses the fantasy-narrative voice also when she is "reading" to me.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Email John & Belle

  • he.jpgjholbo-at-mac-dot-com
  • she.jpgbbwaring-at-yahoo-dot-com

Google J&B

J&B Archives

Buy Reason and Persuasion!

S&O @ J&B

  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Squid and Owl. Make your own badge here.

Reason and Persuasion Illustrations

  • www.flickr.com

J&B Have A Tipjar

  • Search Now:

  • Buy a couple books, we get a couple bucks.
Blog powered by Typepad

J&B Have A Comment Policy

  • This edited version of our comment policy is effective as of May 10, 2006.

    By publishing a comment to this blog you are granting its proprietors, John Holbo and Belle Waring, the right to republish that comment in any way shape or form they see fit.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you hereby agree to the following as well: by leaving a comment you grant to the proprietors the right to release ALL your comments to this blog under this Creative Commons license (attribution 2.5). This license allows copying, derivative works, and commercial use.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you are also granting to this blog's proprietors the right to so release any and all comments you may make to any OTHER blog at any time. This is retroactive. By publishing ANY comment to this blog, you thereby grant to the proprietors of this blog the right to release any of your comments (made to any blog, at any time, past, present or future) under the terms of the above CC license.

    Posting a comment constitutes consent to the following choice of law and choice of venue governing any disputes arising under this licensing arrangement: such disputes shall be adjudicated according to Canadian law and in the courts of Singapore.

    If you do NOT agree to these terms, for pete's sake do NOT leave a comment. It's that simple.

  • Confused by our comment policy?

    We're testing a strong CC license as a form of troll repellant. Does that sound strange? Read this thread. (I know, it's long. Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Ah, there.) So basically, we figure trolls will recognize that selling coffee cups and t-shirts is the best revenge, and will keep away. If we're wrong about that, at least someone can still sell the cups and shirts. (Sigh.)