Repeat after me
Editors’ introduction A number of papers in this collection deal with various aspects of repetition in texts. Some (e.g. Hunston, Thompson & Thompson) look at this from a primarily descriptive angle and are concerned to explore how repetition functions in the signalling and construction of coherence. Others (e.g. Coulthard, Scott) take a more directly applied perspective and use the phenomenon of repetition in order to investigate other issues. Darnton’s paper falls into this latter group: she is interested above all in the potential usefulness of repetition in helping children learn to read. Following arguments put forward by Hasan (1984) and Hoey (1991a, b), she stresses that it is not repetition in itself which should be focused on, but repetition in context. The repetition of individual lexical items in a story may be useful in that the children meet the same words several times, which presumably helps them in the long run to recognize and remember those words. However, if the context in which a particular word appears is constantly changing, there may be nothing to indicate to the children that they have already met the word; so there is less chance that they will recognize it and they may fall back on deciphering it letter by letter much as they did the first time they met it. If, however, they meet the word several times in a similar context they are more likely to use higher-level reading skills of deduction: they ‘know’ in advance what the word will be, and therefore, rather than working painstakingly from letter to word to meaning, they check that the word they see on the page corresponds to the word (and meaning) that they expect. This is more or less what experienced adult readers do, and thus the children are being positively supported in developing the kind of reading skills that they should be aiming at. <br /> In order to show how this works, Darnton analyses a number of stories — some traditional, some contemporary — that are included in holistic early reading schemes. She argues that a key feature of repetition in these stories is that it typically occurs in the context of Matching relations (Hoey 1983). In a Matching relation, some elements are held constant — i.e. repeated — and one or more elements are changed. To take a well-known example from ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ (in an invented but recognizable retelling): <br /> First <i>she tasted the porridge in the</i> big <i>bowl, but it was too</i> hot. <br /> Then <i>she tasted the porridge in the</i> middle-sized <i>bowl, but it was too</i> cold. <br /> (The repeated elements are in italics.) This example shows matching at the level of sentences; but Darnton points out that many stories can be seen as ‘repeated sequence narratives’, in which the matching occurs at the level of the episodes of the story. She defines this more closely by using the tagmemic model devised by Pike and Pike (1983), in which each purposeful sequence of actions by one of the characters which advances the plot is known as a ‘vector’ (Goldilocks’ actions in satisfying her needs by means of the bears’ resources — porridge, chairs and beds — constitute a vector in that narrative). Darnton shows how each set of major Matching relations in the stories she analyses fits within a different vector, thus sharing a common framework. This framework provides support for the reader in building up expectations not only as to what words will re-occur (thus helping the child to recognize them when they appear), but also as to how the story will develop (thus helping the child, on meeting an unfamiliar word, to narrow down the possible meanings). The essential role of repetition in the life of an emergent reader is therefore, she argues, to encourage success in coping with the demands of reading purposefully and fluently.