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Issues in Applied Linguistics

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English and Japanese: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Parental Styles of Narrative Elicitation


To study culturally preferred narrative elicitation patterns, conversations between mothers and children from three different groups were analyzed: (1) Japanese-speaking mother-child pairs living in Japan, (2) Japanese-speaking mother-child pairs living in the U.S., and (3) English-speaking North American (Canadian) mother-child pairs. Study One, which compared mothers from the two different Japanese groups, suggests that Japanese mothers in the U.S. were more likely to prompt their children to extend the topic right after uttering huun ('well'). Study Two, which included the English-speaking mother-child pairs, yielded the following salient contrasts: (1) In comparison to English-speaking mothers, mothers of both Japanese groups gave proportionately less evaluation. (2) Both in terms of frequency and proportion, mothers of both Japanese groups gave more verbal acknowledgment than did English-speaking mothers. (3) However, Japanese mothers in the U.S. requested proportionately more description from their children than did Japanese mothers in Japan. At five years, Japanese-speaking children, whether living in Japan or the U.S., produced roughly 1.2 utterances per turn on average, whereas English-speaking children produced approximately 2.1 utterances per turn, a significant difference. Thus, while English-speaking mothers allow their children to take long monologic turns and give many evaluative comments, Japanese mothers, whether living in Japan or the U.S., simultaneously pay considerable attention to their children's narratives and facilitate frequent turn exchanges. The two studies reported in this paper thus suggest that these differences and similarities may be explained in terms of culture; that is, while inducting their children into a communicative style that is reflective of their native culture, Japanese mothers living in the U.S. are, at the same time, subject to the influence of Western culture. Implications of these findings are further considered in the light of improving cross-cultural understanding.

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