Things We Can Learn From Repeated Tellings of the Same Experience
The study of repeated tellings of the same experience by the same speaker has been a neglected source of insights into the human mind. The content of the mind (here termed underlying experience) cannot be equated with any particular verbalization of it. Language, mental imagery, and emotions provide different windows on it, but the very fact that repeated tellings differ shows that language is not in any one-to-one relation with it. The comparison of such tellings can, however, allow us to zero in on the nature of underlying experience by showing what is constant and what variable. Such comparisons suggest that experience is stored in terms of relatively large topics and relatively small foci that are activated, one at a time, as a topic is scanned. They suggest, too, that decisions regarding sentence boundaries are made as one is talking, so that sentences appear not to reflect units of memory. Whereas ideas of events and their participants show stability, the orientations to such ideas that are expressed by the inflectional elements of language are free to vary. The relative importance of ideas may be inferred from their constancy across repetitions. Chronology appears to be important when it is a relevant relation between ideas, but when it is not relevant there is room for random ordering. These points will be illustrated with a comparison of two tellings that were produced fifteen months apart. (Narrative Structure, Memory)
Published online: 01 January 1998
Cited by 30 other publications
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