Language and Control in Children's Literature

Language and Control in Children's Literature

Language and Control in Children's Literature

Language and Control in Children's Literature

Synopsis

Children's literature has in the past received little serious linguistic analysis despite its widely acknowledged influence on the development and socialisation of young people. In this important and timely study Murray Knowles and Kirsten Malmkjaer examine the work of some of our most popular children's writers from this and the last century in order to expose the persuasive power of language.At the heart of their analysis lie two surveys of children's favourite reading; the first carried out in 1888, the other a hundred years later by the authors themselves. By computer analysing the vocabulary and grammar patterns in the most popular children's text of each period, the authors examine the ways in which children's writers use language to inculcate a particular world view in the minds of the young readers. Looking at the work of nineteenth century English writers of juvenile fiction, Knowles and Malmkjaer expose the colonial and class assumptions on which the books were predicated. In the modern 'teen' novel and the work of Roald Dahl the authors find contemporary attempts to control children within socially established frameworks. Other authors considered include Oscar Wilde, E. Nesbit, Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl .In providing tangible demonstrations of the ways in which writers employ the resources offered by language to reinforce cultural assumptions, Language and Control in Children's Literature is an invaluable book for anyone concerned with children and what they read, whether parent, teacher or student of language and literature.

Excerpt

This book arises from our joint interest in literature written, if not exclusively for children, then at least with child readers in mind. Almost everyone has been exposed to such literature in childhood, almost all parents revisit it with their own children, and very many teachers use it in their everyday work with children. Child educators, along with publishers of books for children, repeatedly stress the importance for success in the education system, and in life in general, of the acquisition of good reading habits early in life, and adult concern about the influence, good and bad, which literature may exert on child readers has a long history. It was such concern, in part, which prompted Edward Salmon, in the nineteenth century, to conduct a survey of children’s reading habits (see Salmon, 1888). Salmon judges such literature chiefly for its moral content, however, and it is commonly agreed that the first scholarly work on English literature for children is Harvey Darton’s Children’s Books in England, published in 1932. As Carpenter and Prichard (1984:142) point out, however, the value of this work was not recognised until long after Harvey Darton’s death in 1936, and it is only relatively recently that children’s literature has come to the fore in academic disciplines such as literary criticism, stylistics and translation studies.

There is, then, a curious discrepancy between the ubiquity and perceived importance of children’s literature, and scholarly research in the field. We set out intending to add to the latter a study with a specific focus on language, because it seemed to us indisputable that the effects, whatever they might be, which literature might work on children, must be mediated largely through the language which constitutes the texts in question.

In fiction, the reality-creating potential of language comes to the fore particularly clearly, and writers have a heightened degree of creative licence. It seemed to us worth while to try to highlight the

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