Why Should Children Adapt, and When?

  • Thora Tenbrink University of Hamburg
Keywords: Perspective Taking, Speech Functions, Information Conveyance

Abstract

This paper is a contribution to the debate on children‚s perspective taking skills, addressing the question which kinds of adaptation are related to different functions of children‚s utterances in their everyday life. A longitudinal home-based study of the contents of a child‚s speech focuses on the child‚s growing ability to present new information to his interaction partner. The functions of the child‚s talk are analysed using Halliday‚s (1975, 1994) framework. The results show that the earliest functions of the child‚s talk are predominantly representational, expressing reflections on (shared) experience that do not necessitate perspective taking. Later on, interpersonal functions emerge, involving emotional sharing with the interlocutor, but not necessarily any understanding of the listener‚s mind. Finally, starting with explanations and elaborations of situations observable by both interlocutors, the child becomes increasingly able to convey information which is new to the listener. Talk which serves the predominant function of conveying information is most effective when the child takes into account the listener‚s informational status. In contrast, the interlocutors‚ knowledge and beliefs are irrelevant for the other speech functions developed earlier. Thus, at an earlier age children do not need to take into account others‚ conceptual perspectives in talking, which may be one reason why they do not exhibit sophisticated perspective taking skills, a fact well-established in the literature. The option of dealing with, and affecting, their interaction partners‚ informational status simply does not exist before children have learned how to use language as a substitution for experience, i.e., to present experiential meaning to others who have no access to the experience itself.
Published
2004-01-29