Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Pear Story

The Pear Story (YouTube link) is a 6-minute film, developed by Wallace Chafe in 1975. It was originally showed to various speakers of English, Japanese, Chinese, German, Greek, and Mayan. They were asked to watch the video and then describe what they saw a short while later.

Chafe was interested in how different cultures recounted narratives through their language, based on a language-less stimulus. He later published his work in 1981. (The Pear Stories: Cognitive, Cultural, and Linguistic Aspects of Narrative Production can be purchased at alibris, starting at a mere $250.)

A book review by Deborah Schiffrin, originally published in Language, can be purchased for $12.00 from JSTOR, or downloaded for free by logging in through your campus library. In the review, she discusses the various contributors to the Pear Stories book (Chafe, Bernardo, Downing, Clancy, Tannen) and their respective area of study in relation to the data. She briefly goes over some of the problems with the research, but concludes that "The pear stories shows that narratives are units of discourse which are useful for exploring a variety of problems concerning the relationship of cognition, culture, and language–problems which should also be examined in narratives of personal experience told in everyday settings."

An excellent place to go to learn more about the pear stories is Mary S. Erbaugh's website, Here she explores the value of examining narrative, elaborates on the differences between Chinese and English pear stories as well as Chinese compared with other languages (including some universal features), and provides research and teaching suggestions. Overall, a fantastic resource!

Currently, linguist, author, and blogger, Michael Erard is also featuring the pear story video on his new website, devoted to the book of the same name. At Babel No More, you can learn about his latest project, an exploration of hyperpolyglots, language superlearners, and the upper limits of linguistic ability. If you have a special language ability, you can participate in his research! Learn more about the survey here.

Another link I found, provides a list of downloadable pieces/tools related to The Pear Story, if you would like to conduct your own research.
I hope you've found this post interesting! I think I'm done with pears for a bit now. It's time for Saturday breakfast. Enjoy yours!

1 comment:

Speaking Japanese said...

What a fascinating video. I studied Japanese for 10 years and realized that culture influences language some much in Japan.