Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
In past research, the form of Japanese children's personal narratives was found to be distinctly different from that of English-speaking children. Despite follow-up questions that encouraged them to talk about one personal narrative at length, Japanese children spoke succinctly about collections of experiences rather than elaborating on any one experience in particular (Minami & McCabe, 1991). Conversations between mothers and children in the two cultures were examined in order partly to account for the way in which cultural narrative style is transmitted to children. Comparison of mothers from the two cultures yielded the following salient contrasts: (1) In comparison to the North American mothers, the Japanese mothers requested proportionately less description from their children. (2) Both in terms of frequency and proportion, the Japanese mothers gave less evaluation and showed more verbal attention to children than did North American mothers. (3) Japanese mothers pay verbal attention more frequently to boys than to girls. In addition, at five years, Japanese children produce 1·22 utterances per turn on average, while North American children produce 2·00 utterances per turn, a significant difference. Thus, by frequently showing verbal attention to their children's narrative contributions, Japanese mothers not only support their children's talk about the past but also make sure that it begins to take the shape of narration valued in their culture. The production of short narratives in Japan is understood and valued differently from such production in North America.
An earlier version of this paper was presented by the authors at the Boston University Conference on Language Development, 19 October 1991. The authors would like to thank Carole Peterson, Memorial University of Newfoundland, for providing them with the data that were collected as part of a research project supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant OGP0000513.