Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

8
A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY OF CHILDREN'S REGISTER KNOWLEDGE

Elaine S. Andersen University of Southern California


INTRODUCTION

In the mid-sixties, Susan Ervin-Tripp, Dan Slobin, and several of their colleagues in Psychology, Anthropology, and Linguistics at the Institute for Human Learning in Berkeley produced a Field Manual for the Cross-cultural Study of the Acquisition of Communicative Competence ( Slobin, 1967). As stated by Ervin-Tripp in the introduction, the goal of that manual was to provide a set of guidelines for examining both "children's acquisition of linguistic codes and the social rules for the use of such codes." At a time when the focus of developmental psycholinguistics was almost exclusively on discovering universals in the acquisition of grammar (based largely on studies of English), the authors of the manual argued for both (a) the need to expand the notion of competence to include communicative as well as grammatical competence, and (b) the importance of looking at cross-cultural variation.

Although the manual has been criticized for not recognizing the importance of an ethnographic approach in cross-cultural research ( Schieffelin, 1979), it was extremely successful in setting the stage for whole programs of research over the next two decades. For example, it foreshadowed the impressive cross-linguistic project of Slobin and his colleagues on early grammatical development (e.g., Slobin, 1973, 1982, and the collections of papers in Slobin, 1985a, 1985b); and it lay the foundation for a large body of cross-cultural studies examining language socialization, focusing not only on the nature of Input language ("Babytalk") and the related belief systems of particular cultures (e.g., Broen, 1972; Clancy, 1986; Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986, 1988; Snow, 1972; Snow & Ferguson, 1977), but also on children's developing sociolinguistic knowledge. Key examples of this latter research are the studies of Ervin-Tripp and colleagues on the acquisition of different speech act types (especially directives) and discourse markers (e.g., Ervin-Tripp, 1977; Ervin-Tripp, O'Connor, & Rosenberg, 1984; Mitchell-Kernan & Kernan, 1977; Sprott, 1992), and the work of Berko Gleason and her colleagues on the acquisition of communicative routines (e.g., Berko Gleason & Weintraub, 1976, 1978; Berko Gleason, Perlmann, & Grief, 1984; Grief & Berko Gleason, 1980). Similarly, the work I will describe below, as well as the larger research program of which it is a part, owes a huge intellectual debt for both its content and its

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