Predictive Relationships Between Early Parent Child Talk and Later Narrative Skill

The previous examples illustrate the wide range that characterizes children's likelihood of engaging in talk about the nonpresent and fantasy talk during the first three years of life. A similarly wide range of accomplishment is observable in children's capacities to produce narratives, whether personal or fantasy, at age 5. To summarize the variation displayed by children in each narrative task, two composite variables were formed: a personal narrative composite score (PN) representing the sum of scores for structure, orientation, and evaluation; and a fantasy narrative composite score (FAN), the sum of scores for structure, evaluation, genre specificity, and character voice. Table 10.1 shows children's measures on early pragmatic skills as well as means and ranges on the PN and FAN composite scores. In the assessments of relationships with early conversational participation, these composite scores are used as outcome measures.

We undertook this study to investigate whether participation in discussions of the nonpresent and of fantasy at the earlier ages was related to children's skill in producing autonomous narratives, both personal and fantasy, later on. In particular, we hypothesized that experience talking about the nonpresent constitutes opportunities to practice the language skills needed for personal narrative, and that experience engaging in fantasy talk with an adult builds skills needed to produce fantasy narratives. Alternatively, of course, participation in both of these forms of early talk might support the development of narrative competence in either genre, as might early experience with more diverse forms of conversational engagement, represented in our pragmatic flexibility measure.

While we are testing a set of precursors that would reflect social support for later narrative skills, another possibility is that various indices of the child's own language competence at earlier and later ages are all highly intercorrelated, each reflecting general underlying language competence. To test this alternative explanation, we first considered the simple correlations among the variables of interest. Table 10.4 shows the results of this correlational analysis. Because somewhat different narrative tendencies were identified for boys and girls, gender is also included.

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