Throwing a light on oral narrative data in order to inform language and literacy research

Keywords: interviews, academic literacy, language usage, oral narrative data, face-to-face interaction, embedding, discourse genres, participant involvement, participant alignment


Narrative methodologies are valuable to language and literacy research. Oral narratives told in situations of face-to-face interaction are used in research methodologies and in scaffolding pedagogic activities. Nevertheless oral narratives often present limiting cases in which narrative accounts are less easily distinguishable from other genres such as interrogative, expository, descriptive or argumentative accounts. The resulting confusion around genre has an impact on data selection and weighing and thereby on how narrative is mobilised in research and in pedagogic situations. This paper presents the results of a corpus-based statistical investigation into the interactional features of oral narrative accounts collected during academic literacy interviews. Common claims made about narratives, such as that they are structurally differentiated, that they rely on more turns at talk or that they are a unique manner of presenting discrete experiences are not supported in a straightforward way in the corpus data. Narratives do promote more involvement, self-reference, complex embeddings and constructed dialogue. Conversely they are less frequent, less on task and are more consistently aligned with their context. In language and literacy research these findings suggest a need to reflect on the relationship between types of participant response, types of solicitation and allocated response times. The study contributes to differentiating discourse types more accurately and emphasises the particularities of oral narrative interaction.


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Author Biographies

William Kelleher, University of Pretoria, South Africa | Université Rennes 2, France

William Kelleher is Maître de Conférences with the LIDILE laboratory (Linguistic Engineering and Language Didactics) at the University of Rennes 2, France, attached to the department of Applied English Language Studies. He is also Research Associate with the Unit for Academic Literacy of the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He completed his doctoral and postdoctoral projects as ‘Innovation’ fellow with the South African National Research Foundation. Before studying for his doctorate, he was a teacher in the inner city in Johannesburg and Marseille. His research interests are linguistic ethnography and the links between narrative and place.

Andries Masenge, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Andries Masenge is a Senior Research Consultant at the Department of Statistics at the University of Pretoria. He holds an MSc degree in statistics. As a research consultant, he supports Master's and PhD students and academic staff in the areas of research design, questionnaire design, research methodology and statistical analysis.

How to Cite
Kelleher, W., & Masenge, A. (2022). Throwing a light on oral narrative data in order to inform language and literacy research. Journal for Language Teaching , 56(2), 1-28.