The Development of narrative skills in Turkish-speaking children: a complexity approach

Ögel Balaban, Hale
Narrative is a complex form of discourse. Creating it requires “a joint process of event comprehension and language production” (Trabasso & Rodkin, 1994, p.87), and understanding and explaining behaviors and emotions of others through perspective taking. In the present study, it is claimed that these requirements map into three levels of complexity: 1) Plot complexity reflecting the temporal and thematic organization of the narrative in a coherent manner, 2) Evaluative complexity indicating the narrator’s perspective toward the events, and 3) Syntactic complexity expressing the coherent causal, temporal and logical order of the reported events in a cohesive way. The aim of the present study was to examine the developments at each level and their interrelationships. Moreover, the relationship between each level of complexity, and theory of mind (ToM), executive function and the comprehension of complex syntactic structures to each level was analyzed. One hundred and five Turkish-speaking children distributed across 4 age groups (4, 5,7 and 8, and 10 and 11 years) and 15 adults participated in 1. Elicitation of narratives task , 2. Emotional Stroop Task, 3. First- (for 4-year-old children) and second-order (for older children and adults) ToM tasks, 4. Real-apparent emotion task (for 4-year-old children), and 5. Comprehension of complement clauses task. Children’s performance on tasks assessing ToM, executive function and comprehension of complex syntax was found to increase with age. Regarding plot complexity, an increase with age was also observed. The fifth and seventh years of life were found to be transitional periods for the generation of coherent narratives. Moroever, the ability to comprehend complex syntax predicted plot complexity suggesting the influence of general linguistic competence on narrative skills. Children in all age groups were found to employ evaluative devices to some extent. However, the frequency of particular evaluative devices changed with age and even adults were found to use them to a low extent. Executive function was found to predict the extent of the use of syntactically complex clauses. A more detailed analysis of these clauses demonstrated that with age children can incorporate syntactically more complex structures expressing cognitively more complex relations into their narratives. The only significant relation between the three levels of complexity was shown between evaluative and syntactic complexity which had clear indicators in narratives. These findings were discussed considering the cognitive, linguistic and sociocultural nature of narration, and the effect of context on narrative performance.