chapter  3
Patients’ narratives of health and illness
Pages 23

For now, however, let us further consider the importance of narrative by examining how telling a story can help the narrator re ect on and reconstruct the past. Here personal interest can in uence how storytellers go about connecting events and making them meaningful for their audience. In this way, the choice of what to tell, and how to tell a story, is often strategic. Hyden (1992), for example, has shown how narratives are used to interpret the past in cases of domestic violence. In this study, male perpetrators were found to prefer words and narrative devices that emphasised purpose (why they acted as they did), whereas their victims foregrounded how they were abused and the physical and emotional consequences of their ordeal. In a similar vein, in his narrative investigation of tales of the unexpected, Woof tt (1992) observes how speakers retailing stories of purported supernatural happenings are prone to harness a range of discursive strategies in order to make their accounts both believable and dramatic – their being worthy of telling and listening to. Consider the following extract, reproduced in Cameron (2001: 152):

ah came home from work at lunchtime (1) an I walked into the sitting room door (.) in through the sitting room door (1.5) an:: right in front of me (.) was a sort of alcove (.) and a chimney breast (.) like this (0.7) ((pointing to the wall)) and a photograph of our wedding (1) came off the top shelf (0.2) oated down to the ground hh completely came apart but didn’t break

The rst thing that you might notice about this extract is its textual realisation, the way in which it has been rendered, from speech to writing. The transcript of the original spoken narrative is larded with orthographical features, such as dots, colons and pairings of letters (hh). As with the practitioner-patient exchanges we examined in the previous chapters, these symbols (see Appendix for details of the transcription code) aim to accurately account for some of the spoken characteristics of the original oral narrative. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the transcription of spoken language into written/ graphic form is very much an interpretative act, a type of reading which will almost certainly vary according to who is undertaking the transcription. The analyst who wishes to transcribe spoken material has to decide exactly how to render it into a form that meets the aims and objectives of their research. This might seem like a rather obvious point, or one we might easily take for granted, but we need to be alert to the fact that spoken discourse can be set down in many different ways, hence giving rise to an in nite variety of textual realisations which will vary in faithfulness with regard to the original spoken text. The striving for accuracy when transcribing talk is a perennial issue for linguists working with spoken discourse, whether they are concerned with oral narratives or any other spoken activity.