Narrative, or the verbal representation of events, is an important aspect of linguistic expertise that differs from phonology, morphology, syntax, or semantics. Narratives, personal narratives in particular, are spoken by everyone everywhere. Even if the act of telling personal narratives is universal and ubiquitous, however, how to tell and interpret narratives should be regarded as an activity with deep cultural roots. There undeniably exist starkly culture-specific narrative styles. We meet individuals from other cultures with speech styles that we find difficult to understand. Anthropological studies (e.g. Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984), in fact, have argued that different cultures adopt distinct approaches in talking with children about past events. Studying young children's performance with narratives can help us identify evidence of their cognitive and linguistic skills development in a particular culture. For this reason then, investigating how children learn to narrate and how they structure their personal narratives is a worthy endeavor.
This chapter explores how language shapes and is shaped by culturally specific experiences through analysis of: (1) how young children develop narrative structure, and (2) how parents guide their children in the acquisition of culturally appropriate styles of narrative and literacy.
Different approaches to narrative analysis
Narrative is a superordinate term that includes a variety of forms, such as scripts, personal event narratives, and fictional stories (Ninio & Snow, 1996). Sometime during the second year of life children begin to utter their first words. During the following four to five years, language acquisition and development occur quite rapidly.