Mediating Narrativity and Rhythmicity in Early Mother-Infant Interactions – Consequences for the Developing Self



The article aims at investigating how cultural-historically evolved discursive practices become evident in mother infant-interactions. Specifically, it compares interactions from a still relatively oral cultural community (Cameroonian Nso farmers) with those from literate Western middle class (families in Munster/ Germany). Based on a dialogic conception of language, culture and human mind it argues with respect to human ontogenesis that children in distinct socio-cultural contexts will develop different subjectivities which are systematically interwoven with the prevalent sociohistoric conditions.

General Information

Keywords: Autonomie, Bewusstsein, -sprachbestimmtes –kulturspezifisches, Entwicklung, kulturelle Entwicklungspfade Individualisierung, zunehmende, Kamerun, Kommunikation, Mutter-Saugling Kultur,oral und literat, Vermittlung von, Dialogische Beziehung von Kultur, Sprache und Selbst, Kultureller Kontext der fruhen Entwicklungsprozesse, Munster, Narrativitat, Narrative Identitat, Nso, Ontogenese, menschliche, Protokonversation, Relationalitat, Emotionale Verbundenheit, Rhythmizitat, Semiotische Mediation

Article type: scientific article

For citation: Demuth C., Keller H., Yovsi R. Mediating Narrativity and Rhythmicity in Early Mother-Infant Interactions – Consequences for the Developing Self [Elektronnyi resurs]. Tätigkeitstheorie: E-Journal for Activity Theoretical Research in Germany, 2011. no. 4, pp. 11–36.


  1. Bakhtin, M.M. (1979): The aesthetics of verbal creation. Moscow. Quoted in Wertsch, J. (2000): Bakhtin, M.M. (1981): The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  2. Bateson, M.C. (1979): The epigenesis of conversational interaction: A personal account of research and development. In M. Bullowa (Ed.), Before speech: The beginnings of human communication, pp. 63–77. London: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Brockmeier, J. & Olson, D.R. (2002): Introduction: What is a culture of literacy? In J. Brockmeier, M. Wang & D.R. Olson (Eds.), Literacy, narrative and culture. pp. 1-14. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.
  4. Brockmeier, J. (2005): Erzahlungen verstehen. In G. Mey (Ed.), Handbuch qualitative Entwicklungspsychologie, S. 185-209). Koln: Kolner Studien Verlag.
  5. Brockmeier, J. (2006): Erzahlung und kulturelles verstehen. Journal Fur Psychologie, 14(1), S. 12-34.
  6. Bruner, J. (1991): The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry, 18(1), pp. 1-21.
  7. Bruner, J. (1990): Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA US: Harvard University Press.
  8. Cole, M. & Hatano, G. (2007): Cultural-historical activity theory: Integrating phylogeny, cultural history, and ontogenesis in cultural psychology. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of cultural ps ychology,pp. 109-135. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.
  9. Cowley, S.J., Moodley, S. & Fiori -Cowley, A. (2004): Grounding signs of culture: Primary intersubjectivity in social semiosis. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 11(2), pp. 109-132.
  10. D‘Andrade, R.G. & Strauss, C. (1992): Human motives and cultural models. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Daniels, H. (2006): The ‚social‘ in post-vygotskian theory. Theory & Psychology, 16(1), pp. 37-49.
  12. Demuth, C. (2008): Talking to infants: How culture is instantiated in early mother -infant interactions. the case of cameroonian farming nso and north german middle-class families. University of Osnabrueck.
  13. Engestrom, Y. (1987): Learning by expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.
  14. Ferguson, C. (1977): Baby talk as a simplified register. In C.E. Snow & C. Ferguson (Eds.), Talking to Children: Language Input and Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Freeman, M. & Brockmeier, J. (2001): Narrative integrity: Autobiographical identity and the meaning of the ‚good life‘. In D. Carbaugh (Ed.), Narrative and identity : Studies in autobiography, self and culture, pp. 75-99. Amsterdam Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  16. Greenfield, P.M. (2009): Linking social change and developmental change: Shifting pathways of human development. Developmental Psychology, 45(2), pp. 401-418.
  17. Havelock, E. (1991): The oral-literate equation: A formula for the modern mind. In D.R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds.), Literacy and orality, pp. 11-27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  18. Jahresstatistik der Stadt Munster 2007.
  19. Jefferson, G. (1984). Transcription notation. In J. M. Atkinson, & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social interaction: Studies in conversation analysis (). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  20. Johnstone, B. (1994): Repetition in discourse: A dialogue. In B. Johnstone (Ed.), Repetition in discourse: Interdisciplinary perspectives, pp. 1-20. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
  21. Kartner, J., Keller, H., Lamm, B., Abels, M., Yovsi, R.D., & Chaudhary, N. (2007): Manifestations of Autonomy and Relatedness in Mothers ‘ Accounts of their Ethnotheories regarding Child Care across Five Cultural Communities. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38(5), pp. 613-628.
  22. Keller, H. (2007): Cultures of infancy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  23. Keller, H., Abels, M., Lamm, B., Yovsi, R.D., Voelker, S. & Lakhani, A. (2005): Ecocultural Effects on Early Infant Care: A Study in Cameroon, India, and Germany. Ethos, 33(4), pp. 512-541.
  24. Keller, H., Hentschel, E., Yovsi, R.D., Lamm, B., Abels, M. & Haas, V. (2004): The Psycho-linguistic Embodiment of Parental Ethnotheories: A New Avenue to Understanding Cultural Processes in Parental Reasoning. Culture & Psychology, 10(3), pp. 293-330.
  25. Keller, H. & Lamm, B. (2005): Parenting as the expression of sociohistorical time: The case of german individualisation. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29(3), pp. 238-246.
  26. Keller, H., Voelker, S. & Yovsi, R.D. (2005): Conceptions of parenting in different cultural communities: The case of West African Nso and northern German women. Social Development, 14(1), pp. 158-180.
  27. Keller, H., Yovsi, R.D. & Voelker, S. (2002): The role of motor stimulation in parental ethnotheories: The case of Cameroonian Nso and German women. Journal of Cross -Cultural Psychology, 33(4), pp. 398-414.
  28. Kulick, D. & Schieffelin, B.B. (2004): Language socialization. In A. Duranti (Ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology, pp. 349-368. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  29. McLuhan, M. (1962): The Gutenberg galaxy. Toronto: University of Toronto.
  30. McLuhan, M. (1964): Understanding media. New York: McGraw Hill.
  31. Nsamenang, A.B. & Lamb, M.E. (1994): Socialization of Nso children in the Bamenda Grassfields of Northwest Cameroon. In P.M. Greenfield & R.R. Cocking (Eds.), Cross -cultural roots of minority child development, pp. 133-146. Hillsdale, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  32. Nsamenang, A.B. & Lamb, M.E. (1998): Socialization of Nso children in the Bamenda Grassfields of Northwest Cameroon. In M. Woodhead, D. Faulkner & K. Littleton (Eds.), Cultural worlds of early childhood, pp. 250-260. Oxon: Routledge.
  33. Ochs, E. (1979). Transcription as theory. In E. Ochs, & B. B. Schieffelin (Eds.), Developmental pragmatics (pp. 43-72). NY: Academic Press.
  34. Ochs, E. (1982): Talking to children in Western Samoa. Language in Society, 11(1), pp. 77-104.
  35. Ochs, E. (1988). Culture and language development: Language acquisition and language socialization in a Samoan village. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  36. Ochs, E. (1990): Indexicality and socialization. In J.W. Stigler, R.A. Shweder & G. Herdt (Eds.), Cultural psychology: Essays on comparative human development, pp. 287-308. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  37. Ochs, E. & Schieffelin, B.B. (1984): Language acquisition and socialization. three developmental stories and their implications. In R.A. Shweder & R.A. LeVine (Eds.), Culture theory. essays on mind, self, and emotion, pp. 276-320. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  38. Olson, D.R. (1991): Literacy and objectivity: The rise of modern science. In D.R. Olson & N. Torrance (Eds.), Literacy and orality, pp. 149-164. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  39. Olson, D.R. & Torrance, N. (1991): Literacy and objectivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  40. Olson, D.R. & Torrance, N. (1996): Modes of thought: Explorations in culture and cognition. New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.
  41. Ong, W.J. (1988): Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. new accents. New York: M ethuen.
  42. Papoušek, M. (1992): Early ontogeny of vocal communication in parent-infant interactions. In H. Papoušek, U. Jurgens & M. Papoušek (Eds.), Nonverbal Vocal Communication: Comparative and Developmental Aspects, pp. 230-261. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press/Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme.
  43. Schieffelin, B. B. (1989). How Kaluli chldren learn what to say, what to do, and how to feel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  44. Scollon, R. (1982). Reality set, socialization and linguistic convergence. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
  45. Slunecko, T. & Hengl, S. (2006): Culture and media: A dynamic constitution. Culture & Psychology, 12(1), pp. 69-85.
  46. Slunecko, T. & Hengl, S. (2007): Language, cognition, subjectivity: A dynamic constitution. In J. Valsiner, & A. Rosa (Eds.), The cambridge handbook of sociocultural psychology, pp. 40-61. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
  47. Snow, C.E. (1972): Mother‘s speech to children learning language. Child Development, 43, pp. 549-565.
  48. Stern, D.N. (1992): The ‚Pre-Narrative Envelope‘: An Alternative View of ‚Unconscious Phantasy‘. Bulletin of The Anna Freud Centre, 15, pp. 291-318.
  49. Stern, D.N. (2004): The Present Moment In Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company.
  50. Stern, D.N., Speiker, R.K. & Mackain, K. (1982): Intonation contours as signals in maternal speech to prelinguistic infants. Developmental Psychology, 18(5), pp. 727-735
  51. Stock, B. (1996): Self, narrative, and memory: Reflections on Augustine, Petrarch, and Descartes. In N. Torrance (Ed.), Modes of thought: Explorations in culture and cognition, pp. 53-58. New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.
  52. Straub, J. (2002): Personale identitat und Autonomie. Eine moderne Subjekttheorie und das "postmoderne Selbst". In K. Kopping & R. Wiehl (Hrsg.), Die autonome Person – eine europaische Erfindung, S. 255-271. Munchen: Fink.
  53. Straub, J. & Zielke, B. (2005): Autonomie, narrative Identitat und die postmoderne Kritik des sozialen Konstruktionismus. „Relationales“ und „dialogisches“ selbst als zeitgemase Alternativen? In F. Jaeger & J. Straub (Eds.), Was ist der Mensch, was Geschichte? Annaherungen an eine kulturwissenschaftliche Anthropologie, S. 165-210. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.
  54. Tannen, D. (1987): Repetition in conversation: Toward a poetics of talk. Language, 63(3), pp. 574-605.
  55. Tannen, D. (1989): Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  56. Taylor, C. (1989): Sources of the self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA US: Harvard University Press.
  57. Tonnies, F. (1887): Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft. Leipzig: Fues.
  58. Trudell, B. (2006): Language development and social uses of literacy: A study of literacy practices in Cameroonian minority language communities. The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9(5), pp. 625-642.
  59. Valsiner, J. (2007): Culture in minds and societies. Foundations of cultural psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  60. Vygotsky, L.S. (1978): Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  61. Wertsch, J.V. & Tulviste, P. (1992): L.S. Vygotsky and contemporary developmental psychology. Developmental Psychology, 28(4), pp. 548-557.
  62. Yovsi, R.D. (2001): Ethnotheories about breastfeeding and mother-infant interaction. the case of sedentary Nso farmers and nomadic Fulani pastorals with their infants 3-6 months of age in Mbvem subdivision of the northwes providence of Cameroon, Africa. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Osnabrueck.
  63. Yovsi, R.D. (2003): An investigation of breastfeeding and mother-infant interactions in the face of cultural taboos and belief systems: The case of Nso and Fulani mothers and their infants of 3-5 months of age in Mbvem subdivision of the northwest province of Cameroon. Munster: LIT.
  64. Yovsi, R.D. & Keller, H. (2003): Breastfeeding: An adaptive process. Ethos, 31(2), pp. 147-171.
  65. Yovsi, R.D. & Keller, H. (2007): The architecture of cosleeping among wage-earning and subsistence farming Cameroonian Nso families. Ethos, 35(1), pp. 65-84.

Information About the Authors

Carolin Demuth, Mitarbeiterin am Institut für Psychologie der Universität Osnabrück, Abteilung Entwicklung & Kultur;, Osnabrück, Germany, e-mail:

Heidi Keller, Osnabrück, Germany, e-mail:

Relindis Yovsi, Osnabrück, Germany



Total: 1497
Previous month: 3
Current month: 0


Total: 425
Previous month: 1
Current month: 0