Narrative analysis of oral personal experience across two languages and cultures: Brazilian Portuguese and American English

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University of Alabama Libraries

Stories play a significant role in human culture, and storytelling is "both universal and timeless" (Wajnryb, 2003, p. 1). The importance of narratives in our everyday lives does not lie in its interactional function only, but in its ability to foster knowledge, memory, and organization of discourse (Bruner, 1991). Accordingly, this discourse mode has been one of the major themes in a variety of fields such as history, anthropology, psychology, literary studies, sociology, education, and, more recently, linguistics and cognitive science (Bloome, 2003; Johnstone, 2001). However, cross-cultural differences in storytelling are a factual possibility, and a word of caution is needed when generalizing the framework of narratives (Polanyi, 1985). Nevertheless, the majority of the works on narratives have taken a monocultural and monolingual approach, predominantly regarding American narratives, and how storytelling is conveyed in other cultures and languages remains to be uncovered. In addition, the field of storytelling has generally been neglected in second language instruction. Telling and listening to stories, nonetheless, are among the very first tasks a language learner faces. It is not surprising then that many native and non-native speakers struggle understanding one another's stories and ways of life, especially when they come from quite different cultures. This study investigated the conventions governing Brazilian narratives in comparison to the narrative framework for American narratives using a Labovian approach. Further, this study explored narratives told in English by speakers of Brazilian Portuguese (BP) in order to examine the occurrence of L1 transfer of Brazilian storytelling features. The findings revealed that the overall framework of Brazilian narratives conforms to the Labovian framework for American narratives albeit with significant and distinctive differences. The main differences between Brazilian narratives and the Labovian American framework were their lack of abstracts, extensive use of constructed dialogue in the complicating action and resolution, non-linear orientation pattern, and absence of the historical present. These results indicate a possible language and storytelling transfer since American narratives do not normally present extensive constructed dialogue, while the historical present is typical of narratives in English. Suggestions for future research as well as practical pedagogical implications were also offered.

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Language, Linguistics