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What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school*

  • Shirley Brice Heath (a1)

Abstract “Ways of taking” from books are a part of culture and as such are more varied than current dichotomies between oral and literate traditions and relational and analytic cognitive styles would suggest. Patterns of language use related to books are studied in three literate communities in the Southeastern United States, focusing on such “literacy events” as bedtime story reading. One community, Maintown, represents mainstream, middle-class school-oriented culture; Roadville is a white mill community of Appalachian origin; the third, Trackton, is a black mill community of recent rural origin. The three communities differ strikingly in their patterns of language use and in the paths of language socialization of their children. Trackton and Roadville are as different from each other as either is from Maintown, and the differences in preschoolers' language use are reflected in three different patterns of adjustment to school. This comparative study shows the inadequacy of the prevalent dichotomy between oral and literate traditions, and points also to the inadequacy of unilinear models of child language development and dichotomies between types of cognitive styles. Study of the development of language use in relation to written materials in home and community requires a broad framework of sociocultural analysis. (Crosscultural analysis, ethnography of communication, language development, literacy, narratives.)

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R. Cohen (1968). The relation between socio-conceptual styles and orientation to school requirements. Sociology of Education 41: 201–20.

R. Glaser (1979). Trends and research questions in psychological research on learning and schooling. Educational Researcher 8 (10): 613.

S. Heath (1980). The functions and uses of literacy. Journal of Communication 30 (1): 123–33.

H. Mehan (1979). Learning lessons. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

C. Payne , & Ca. Bennett (1977). “Middle class aura” in public schools. The Teacher Educator 13 (1): 1626.

A. Peters (1977). Language learning strategies. Language 53 560–73.

H. Witkin , F. Faterson , R. Goodenough , & J. Birnbaum (1966). Cognitive patterning in mildly retarded boys. Child Development 37 (2): 301–16.

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Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
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