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

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ARGUING WITH SIBLINGS, FRIENDS, AND MOTHERS: DEVELOPMENTS IN RELATIONSHIPS AND UNDERSTANDING

Judy Dunn University of London

Susan Ervin-Tripp's extraordinary sensitivity to the differences in children's discourse in varying social situations has not only taught us key lessons about children's developing language ( Ervin-Tripp, 1987), about their understanding of power relations, and about the structure of control and deference within the family ( Ervin-Tripp, Guo, & Lampert, 1990; Ervin-Tripp, O'Connor, & Rosenberg, 1984). Her arguments for the importance of focusing on children's talk in a variety of discourse contexts also have far-reaching lessons for those interested in the development of relationships and the links between social understanding and emotional experience. In this chapter I take the example of young children's arguments in conflict with their mothers, siblings, and friends, over the course of their fourth year, as an illustration of what we can learn from studying children's talk in different close relationships ( Dunn, 1992). Conflict talk is an especially useful forum for investigating children's social understanding: Their knowledge of social rules can, for example, be revealed in their excuses and justifications, and their grasp of the other person's desires, expectations, and beliefs in their attempts to conciliate and negotiate. The lessons to be learned concern a range of developmental issues, centering on a core question: What are the connections between children's developing understanding of others and their social relationships with those others?

The wealth of current research on children's developing understanding of others' minds and emotions (e.g., Frye & Moore, 1991; Perner, 1991; Wellman, 1990) has shown that there are major developmental changes between the ages of 3 and 5 years in children's grasp of others' inner states. It is paradoxical that with all the interest in

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The research described was supported by grants from NICHD (HD 23158), and by the Medical Research Council of Great Britain.

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