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Reconsidering comments in family dinner conversations
Södertörn University College, Avdelning 3, Swedish language.
2003 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of the present study was to reconsider, theoretically and empirically, the communicative acts termed “meta-pragmatic comments”, suggested by previous research to be used for socializing purposes in the context of family dinner conversations. The corpus analysed consisted of videotaped recordings of dinner conversations in 19 Swedish families. The families were homogenous with regard to social and cultural circumstances as measured by a questionnaire, but differed with regard to the age spans of the children. In both groups, they had one child of age 10-11 years, referred to as the target child, but the families of group 1 included siblings who were younger (mean age 8.4) than the target child, while the families of group 2 included siblings who were older (mean age 13.5). The definition of the communicative act of “meta-pragmatic comment” and some of the principles for coding sub-categories of such comments were adopted from two previous inter-cultural studies but slightly revised. The purpose of revision was to give the act pf of comment a firmer foundation in speech act theory and to explicitly motivate the selection of sub-categories from a developmental perspective.

A calculation of percentages of comments of various types produced in the two groups of families showed that the group of older siblings made more comments totally, and considerably more comments on other persons not present, declarative comments, comments on linguistic behaviours and comments referring to non-immediate subjects than did the group of siblings younger than the target children. The first group with younger siblings, on the other hand, had more comments addressed to the target child, more interrogative and imperative comments, more indirect comments, more comments directed toward non-linguistic and immediately performed behaviours. Parental comments also differed significantly between the two groups. Thus, the mothers of the first group with younger siblings made most comments totally within that group, to some extent confirming the hypothesis of comments serving a socializing purpose. In most sub-categories (except for imperative comments), they also made proportionally more comments than the fathers. Mothers in the first group also commented proportionally more on non-linguistic behaviours, especially on table manners, than mothers in group 2, and referred much more often to behaviours occurring in the immediate context than did mothers of the second group. This was an expected finding, supported by previous research on maternal speech, but they were also more indirect, which was not expected. On the other hand, the mothers of the second group made more declarative comments and they also commented more on behaviours that were not related to the immediate context, as suggested above. Finally, their share of direct comments (addressed to older children) was unexpectedly larger than that of mothers in the first group. The fathers were more passive in the production of comments, but they dominated regarding imperative comments. Some fathers also made certain kinds of indirect comments that might be perceived as sarcastic.

As for the use of comments among the children, some findings were expected, but others were not. There were differences between the groups, mostly giving higher percentages to the group with older siblings. Both target children and siblings in this group produced considerably more comments, more declarative comments, proportionally more comments on linguistic behaviours and on behaviours in the non-immediate context than did the children in the first group. Thus, at least regarding the use of comments, the target children within group 2 seemed to behave as their older siblings and they were actually the “target” of comments to a lesser extent than were the target children within group 1.

From these findings, some general conclusions may be drawn. First, the categories of comments selected proved to be sensitive to the age span of the children around the preadolescence years, although the variables were based on child language research primarily on pre-school children. Second, preadolescent children seemed to take advantage the presence of older siblings in their communicative activity, possibly because they were allowed to perform in the “zone of proximal development”, according to Vygotskij (1962). Finally, a comparison of the results from the present study with those of the two inter-cultural studies, mentioned above, yielded some interesting similarities but also considerable differences, not easy to interpret. For this reason, far-reaching conclusions regarding inter-cultural differences in the use of “meta-pragmatic comments” during family dinners seem doubtful at the present stage of research, considering the remarkable variations within similar but age-differentiated groups within the same culture.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Huddinge: Södertörns högskola , 2003. , p. 33
Series
Working Paper, ISSN 1404-1480 ; 2003:4
Keywords [en]
Languages and linguistics
Keywords [sv]
Språkvetenskap
National Category
Specific Languages
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-58OAI: oai:DiVA.org:sh-58DiVA, id: diva2:16290
Available from: 2003-09-23 Created: 2003-09-23 Last updated: 2018-01-13Bibliographically approved

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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