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

13
PATTERNS OF PROHIBITION IN PARENT-CHILD DISCOURSE

Jean Berko Gleason, Richard Ely,
Rivka Y. Perlmann, and Bhuvana Narasimhan
Boston University

Very young children have remarkable linguistic abilities that enable them to acquire language under the varying conditions that exist in all the different societies of the world. This is obvious, since there are no cultures in which children fail to acquire language. At the same time, at least in the societies we know, children develop language in the course of conversations with those around them, in conversational context, and not simply by first observing adult speech to other adults and then deriving the rules.

In this chapter we will explore some early developmental, gender, and contextual differences in the language that parents address to their young daughters and sons in the course of everyday interactions, and we will consider the role such differences may have in children's linguistic socialization. By LINGUISTIC SOCIALIZATION we mean two things: in the narrow sense, how children are socialized to use language appropriately, and in the broader sense, how children are socialized through language to conform with our society's construction of their roles and behavior ( Gleason, 1988).

Child-directed speech produced by adults in a given community has been shown by many investigators to be characterized by numerous shared features, which are related to the speakers' need to communicate with a language learner: Speaking to an infant, for instance, requires modifying that speech so that an infant can process it -- this can include, among a long list of other special features, speaking with exaggerated intonation and high pitch, using simple and repetitive sentences, and speaking relatively slowly. Not every society uses the same set of features ( Snow, Perlmann, & Nathan, 1987), but every society we know has a special register for speaking to infants and children. As children grow older, the specialized input they receive also changes in complexity and focus: Adults and children calibrate their language and other behaviors in response to subtle cues from one another.

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