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Auteur: Adriana Maria TENUTA

The structuring of narrative texts into figure and ground: attention, memory and ADHD

Abstract/Résumé: This work presents a research (conducted in collaboration with the Attention Deficit Disorder Clinic (HC, UFMG, Brazil) for which narratives produced by 12 ADHD children and 18 normal developing controls between 9 and 14 years of age were analysed. ADHD has been associated, among other symptoms, with distinct language behavior, and ADHD children have been described as presenting communicative and pragmatic difficulties, and making more errors - “ambiguous references, dysfluencies” (Tannock, 2005). The underlying causes for such, however, have not been well defined in current literature. Investigating the existence of a relationship among narrative structure, attention focus and ADHD, the present research taps into structural linguistic aspects that may lead to the difficulties pointed out in the literature. It focuses on the figuration process; i.e., the distribution of informational elements into narrative figure and ground (Hopper, 1979), observable mainly through the tense and aspect verbal system. We found an increased production of narrative figure, as a specific pattern of narrative structuring done by the experimental group, compared to the control group (p=0.0815), in a task that demanded internal attentional focus. This finding corroborates Kofler et al (2009), for whom tasks that require internal processes of working memory without the aid of visual cues seem to better distinguish children with ADHD from children with normal development. More figure than ground elements in the narratives of ADHD individuals compared to the control group means that the stories produced by these individuals contain proportionally more narrative events, i.e. events in the story line itself, and, therefore, fewer descriptions, evaluations, judgments, comments (Tenuta, 2006). The research reported here, then, shows the importance of working transdisciplinarily to reach broader understanding of certain phenomena, more specifically, the importance of connecting linguistic and psychological studies to a more comprehensive view of psychopathologies, such as ADHD. In addition, this research supports a central tenet of Cognitive Linguistics, which is the relationship between language and cognition. Through the investigation of the process of assigning the categories of figure and ground to the events of a narrative, pragmatic and communication difficulties identified in the literature as characteristic of the linguistic production of ADHD individuals can be better identified as concerning the relationship between attentional focus and memory.