Critical Discussion On Speakers Notions Of Tellability English Language Essay

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For every word being uttered, and every idea being communicated, there is an author and a receiver. The process of communication happens between these two entities. In a formal narrative, the author is called the narrator. But in an informal narrative like the personal narration in a conversation, the terminology more suitable is that of tellership and tellability. According to Ochs and Capps "tellership refers to the extent and kind of involvement of conversational partners in the actual recounting of a narrative." (2001: 24) Ochs and Capps have also suggested that "tellership resides in the hands of one or many." (2001:24). When there are many tellers, multiple narratives overlap, interact and create an understandable, new narrative.

Sometimes, a narrative is also defeated by a counter-narrative (Ochs and Capps, 2001, 43). This concept can also be elaborated as, "tellability is related not only to the sensational nature of events but also to the significance of events for particular interlocutors and the way in which events are rhetorically shaped in narrative." (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 34). There have also been other definitions for tellability and tellership. Duranti has said that "tellability refers to the significance of the narrated experience and the rhetorical style in which it is related." (Duranti: 2006:282) He also added that some experience have high tellability and some have low. "Experience recounted as highly reportable (and) in a compelling manner" is considered as highly tellable and "experience recounted as moderately reportable and in an uncoupling manner" is evaluated as having a low tellability. (Duranti: 2006: 282)

Tellability has been defined by Herman, in his book Basic elements of narratives, as "that which makes an event or configuration of events relevantly reportable… in a given communication situation." (Herman: 2009: 382) Another simple definition can be "stories need to have tellability….they need to have a point." (Coates: 2003: 21)

According to Ochs and Capps, there are two differing factors in a narrative. They are, " 'narrators' yearning for coherence of life experience and their yearning for authenticity." (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 24) Women narratives "are often precisely about the ordinary and the everyday," (Coates:2001: 35) and their notion of tellability is often related to themes of justice, equality and democracy as compared to that of men. This is the therefore the reason to why women are often accused of being hesitant and marginal speakers and also blamed of having a lack in their authenticity. Values such as equality and democracy are factors which play a role in the atmosphere of the narration.

A highly tellable account is defined as having "one active teller, relatively detached from surrounding talk and activity, linear, temporal and causal organization, and (having) certain, constant moral stance." (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 23). With regards to this, it can be understood that women narratives lack these qualities in general. Yet, the notions of tellership for a woman, gives enough space to the tellership of others and even for multiple narratives. In the same way, a woman's notion of tellability is not governed by what is considered reliable by a male controlled society, but by her own rules of beliefs and equality.

Ochs and Capps have implied that "a teller may incorporate several voices through embedded quotes." (Ochs and Capps: 2002:25) It is also suggested that "tellers seek the clarity and coherence that linearity offers" (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 45). Nevertheless, they also have the belief that "non-linear narration opens narration to multiple truths and perspectives and the realization that certain life experiences resist tidy, ready-at-hand interpretive frameworks." (Ochs and Capps: 2001:45). It is these definitions that apply more to a woman's notion of tellership and tellability. In one example cited by Ochs and Capps, Jon (the husband) is seen flaming up Marie, the wife's, confusion and self doubt by telling her how he would have behaved in a better way in a similar situation. He goes on repeating that she is weak, and always in two minds. With such an example, based on the inferences of Coates, it can be said that Jon is "performing masculinity." (Coates: 2001:35)

But Marie approaches matters with a more wide range and democratic view of life, whilst Jon states that when he says something, he sticks to that to the end. The next example, explores how a Samoan tribal chief, converses with his companions. It draws attention to the sense making process that is involved in narrative conversation, which is based on equality compared to the situation of Jon and Marie. In Jon's and Marie's case, the counter-narrative grabs all the authenticity but in this case, narration is an equally shared process in which sense making is the primary goal.

In another speech retold by Ochs and Capps, a husband is seen overlapping the tellership of his wife by every so often reinforcing her narrative and creating a counter-narrative. The husband is seen trying to communicate in a silly tone to his wife's otherwise serious narration. Here, one can question the tellability of the event by the mocking counter-narrative of the husband. Nevertheless, the wife keeps to her narrative, strongly believing in its tellability. Her tellarship is often interrupted by her husband, yet it is interesting to note that she allows space for his tellarship.

In the conversation by school girls again cited by Ochs and Capps, the tellership is shared equally between the interlocutors. Even though Bea was the initiator of the conversation, she gives Julia an equal space and even allows her to take over. She also is not worried about the authenticity of her side of the story, as she is more concerned about the truth of it. Furthermore, she even questions whether she was stupid in her actions. For these tellers, the process of sense making is more vital than winning an argument. Additionally, in this conversation the evaluative clauses used by Julia proves the tellability of the story. The conversation between Bea and Julia is an event which proves that the evaluative clauses used by Julia indicates how a women's notion of tellability is different from that of men. It is also observed that certain themes such as " heroism, conflict (and) achievement are (typical of men's stories) but not of women's stories." (Coates: 2001 :37).

A narrative "full of hesitation, queries and consideration of alternative perspectives" is often difficult to "demarcate and systematically analyse." (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 23) This is what causes gender discrimination in such narratives. Therefore, direct and reliable accounts always seize the centre stage. Narratives having, "multiple, active co-tellers, moderately tellable account" and those which are, "relatively embedded in surrounding discourse and activity, nonlinear temporal and causal organization and uncertain, fluid moral stance" thus gets discarded as having a weak tellability. (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 24)

Another example illustrated by Ochs and Capps, this time between mother and father, the father is seen keeping silent to the mother's queries. Here the notion of tellability varies between man and woman. The man does not believe in the tellability of the woman's account and this happens in several of the examples quoted by Ochs and Capps. The chuckles and coughs of Katherine while she listens to Algy is another example whereby a women expresses their notions of tellability. Stacie, a school girl is narrating a gruesome event whereby a mother puts her baby into the oven. Here, the dramatic nature of the event is what increases the tellability for this girl. In another instance, Oren believes that her story is tellable when she explains that she made a funny mistake by eating something that looked like pickle thinking it was. So the playful can also be tellable depending on the teller's and discusser's age, gender and other demographic aspects.

In all the conversations cited by Ochs and Capps, whereby both genders are involved, a counter-narrative is present without doubt. It is also possible to note that a woman's narrative has a sequence to it rather than that of a man, as "stories in women's friendly talk are more likely to be part of a sequence than to stand alone (something which is not true of all-male stories." (Coates:2001:116) In all the conversations recorded by Ochs and Capps, it can be noticed that conversations among all women groups are never competitive compared to male conversations. This is due to the fact that "competition is not part of dominant versions of femininity, whereas it is an important aspect of dominant versions of masculinity." (Coates:2001:116)

Through certain examples mentioned, it can be said that differences do arise between the stories presented by males and females. " Men's stories depict a world where solitary men pit themselves against the other (this may be another men or it may be a machine or circumstances generally), while women's stories depict a world where people are enmeshed in relationships and are part of a wider community." (Coates: 137: 2003) In other words, a tellable story for females would focus on relationships and people, whilst men usually speak about conflicts and power.

Tellability does not solely depend on how important or dramatic an event is, but also the rhetorical style of which it is told. For example, women usually speak through the use of questions in order to involve the other person in the narrative. This can be seen in various examples mentioned by Ochs and Capps. It is usually used to increase questions in order to persuade the interlocutors to involve themselves in the story.

Moreover, usually women narratives have a pattern. In other words, the story has a beginning, middle and an end. Their stories also hold narrative clauses and uses direct speech in order to make their conversation more interesting and catching. Male narrators also use this method along with females to "bring their characters to life by using direct speech, position their characters In time and space, and communicate the tell ability of their stories through evaluative devices of various kinds." (Coates: 2001: 35)

An additional method used commonly by females, is the use of pauses and silences. One example which can be illustrated to prove this is the conversation shown by Ochs and Capps between the students and Mrs. Collins. The silence of the students indicate the authority that their teacher has over them. However, with regards to men, brief responses and silences can be a sign of strong authority as in the case of Jon while responding to Marie's narrative.

"To recount something in a compelling manner" is the success of tellership. (Duranti: 2006: 282) This is proved by Ochs and Capps. Some narrators tell their story with "negative effect markers" such as"bo:y" and "WOW." (Ochs and Capps: 2001: 46). With such markers, the listener is able to get emotionally influenced by the narrative and make evaluative reactions. Rhetorical use is equally powerful, building up a suspense until the end of the narrative. Another rhetorical technique is also used whereby self-absorption becomes captivating for the listener and greatly increases the tellership. However, some narrators use the method of linear narrative to enhance the value of the tellership.

Generally, women are found to be capable of delivering drama into their narratives, but also selecting ordinary, but highly tellable topics. On the other hand, they are also found to have the tendency of raising topics which are usually regarded as irrelevant to the male narratives. Women narratives can be considered as "narratives of the community" as compared to the "narratives of contest" practiced by men (Coates: 2001:137).

A story must be tellable. It should also consist of narrative clauses and have an order of which the events are being told. However, this essay has proven that these aspects differ with gender. The tellability and tellership are two factors which are determined by the level of understanding of the interlocutors. They both are variable, however the theory that women as tellers and listeners have a different view when compared to men regarding these two dimensions of narration holds true in majority of occasions.

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