Accepted paper:

Being a neighbor among Kazakhs: The insights from discourse analysis of personal narratives.


Aisulu Raspayeva (Rice University)

Paper abstract:

Mealtime narratives provide insight into the social world of a community as demonstrated, for example, by Ochs and Taylor's (1995) work on gender dynamics in middle-class American families. There is a little of such research in post-Soviet Kazakhstan that is experiencing tremendous sociocultural changes (e.g., Kesici 2011). Applying the idea of three levels of positioning in narrative (e.g., Bamberg & Georgakopoulou, 2008), I examine how two Kazakh-speaking participants discursively construct their identity as Kazakhs and village members through alignment and disalignment with other village members in the context of two mealtime narratives. Two narratives were taken from a mealtime conversation between a female and male participants who are neighbors residing in the village in the north of Kazakhstan. Both narrative focus on the topic of thefts. First, I analyze the characters' attributes and actions in the narratives' story worlds (level one), then highlight purposes that story worlds serve their tellers in the storytelling worlds (level two), and then relate the results to the master narratives of nation-building in Kazakhstan (level three). Analyses reveal that at the first level, in the story worlds, the narrators disalign with neighbors who steal personal items. Specifically, they assign negative actions (e.g., 'sweep everything') and negative attributes (e.g., 'behind my back') to the ones who stole their personal belongings such as a knife and four kilograms of meat. The teller portrait themselves as a victim through describing their emotional state (e.g., 'walked in sadness') and inability to act (e.g., 'did not confront'). This disalignment is also demonstrated through pronoun choices (I/we vs. they) and evaluative devices (Labov 1972) like adjectives (e.g., 'shrewd') and rhetorical questions (e.g., "What should I have done?"). At the second level, or the storytelling world, the tellers effectively employ the narratives to further construct their individual identities as 'authentic' Kazakhs and neighbors by aligning with each other. They feed off each other's narratives in story rounds (Tannen 2005) and explicitly evaluate the stories as an inevitable part of the village lifestyle. Connecting to the third level, disalignment with dishonest neighbors in the story-world and alignment between the story-tellers in the storytelling world highlight resentment of the Soviet generation towards Soviet communistic regime, in which the lines between private and collective properties were blurred. In conclusion, this research reveals the fruitfulness of personal narratives in understanding connections among language, community, and identity.

panel LAN-03
Narratives and Areal Linguistics