Thursday, December 8, 2011

developmental psychology

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Baby talk register is the term used to describe infant-directed speech, formerly referred to as motherese. The word register is a term belonging to the field of linguistic anthropology, which signifies a type of speech (including its specific features and the social context it is used in, as well as the social functions it performs). Baby talk register can be described as the speech mothers, caregivers, or adults in general use, when they speak to infants or young children. This type of speech consists of a number of specific features. Baby talk is a form of speech where both sentences and words are simplified (words with a lot of consonants are usually exchanged for words with vowels...for example bunny is used in exchange for the word rabbit). Baby talk is spoken more slowly, there is modification in the pitch and tone of voice (usually higher), and it is very redundant, with frequent repetitions and exaggerated modulations.


Three additional features of baby talk register include the use of expansions, recast, and guesses. Expansion is when an adult takes a word or phrase that a child has used and expands it into a more complex idea. Recast can be defined as a situation where an adult takes an utterance that a child says and recasts it into a more grammatically correct form of the idea (e.g. Child Park we go? Adult Yes, we are going to the park.) Guesses involve an adult taking an utterrance of a child and attempting to figure out what the child means; the adult tries to illicit more information from the child. All three of these features are very interactional and some are very distinctive to certain kinds of cultures.


Baby talk register is part of linguistic accomodation. Adults who engage in infant directed speech are modifying the situation to fit the childs needs or abilities, which is in itself, the very definition of accomodation. By using baby talk register, adults are insulating children from adult demands (e.g using proper grammar). The idea of baby talk register as linguistic accomodation is further exemplified in the Anglo-American middle class culture - which is also one of cultures in the three developmental stories discussed in Ochs and Shieffelins research.


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Ochs and Schieffelin illustrate the variation among cultures in caregiver language behavior with infants by comparing three different cultures. The Anglo-American middle class utilizes baby talk register, while the two other cultures, the Kaluli the Samoans, do not. In the Anglo-American middle class culture, parents and children engage in face to face interaction from birth. Infants are treated as social beings and capable communication partners. Adults engage in proto conversations with infants. Protoconversation is child-centered and is based on dyadic communication. The project of the caregiver is centered on interpreting what the child is doing. It involves turn-taking between the infant and the adult, supporting the idea of a couple, which is extremely valued in this culture. The infants vocal communication or other form of response is treated as part of the conversation. The adult will interpret the childs actions or behaviors and integrate the interpretations into part of the conversation. In this sense, the caregiver is playing both roles in conversation (the infants and their own).


In the Anglo-American middle class culture, as the child gets older and is actually able to contribute to the conversation the caregiver will start to engage in simplified speech, expansions, and guesses with the child. The adults in this culture accomodate to the childs linguistic ability. They treat the child as an equal conversational partner. To do this, adult caregivers will actually raise the position of the child in the conversation and lower their own position. Minimal linguistic accomplishments are often treated as full-fledged accomplishments.


The use of baby-talk register and the arrangement between infant and adult as equal conversation partners allows the child raised in this culture to feel that his/her contributions and responses are important and valued in driving interactions. The implications of language behavior in the Anglo-American culture can be summed up in three ways. Firstly, utterances are capable of being interpreted as having more than one meaning and it is your responsibility to figure out what the other person means. Secondly, the protoconversation used with infants and children teaches them procedures for turn-taking in a dyad. Thirdly, this culture emphasizes a profound idea about the self - the individual in this culture is not only allowed, but expected, to respond and convey his/her own actions and feelings in an interaction.


In contrast with the Anglo-American middle class culture, Ochs and Shieffelin describe the Kaluli culture which does not use baby talk register in caregiver language behavior with infants. The Kaluli are a non-literate culture who live in small villages. They do not treat infants as conversational partners. Kaluli view children as being soft - meaning they are helpless, undeveloped, uncivilized and lack understanding. The main focus of the Kaluli caregiver is to make the children hard- help them develop understanding and make them assertive.


One of the main consequences of infants being seen as soft, is that infants are not treated as if they can understand language. Babies are carried in slings and are facing outward, away from their mothers or caregivers. No situational accomodation is made for the infants. Mothers go about their daily activities with no specific concern or adjustement for the infant. Other people in the village may greet the infant or vocalize to it through out the day, but they never speak in sentences or baby-talk register.


The Kaluli have several special language acquisition routines. The Kaluli culture is very much focused on tryadic (or more) interaction. The mother or caregiver will respond for the infant when other people talk to it. However, the mother will uses complex, well-formed sentences. The mother will proceed to move the baby up and down like a puppet to exemplify assertive behavior to the infant. Yet, the child has no active role in the interaction. The childs responses are not recognized or integrated into the conversation.


In the Kaluli culture, once a child speaks its first words, caregivers will begin to show the child how to use language. Elema is another special routing in language acquisition for the Kaluli. When the mother or caregiver wants a child to say a word, the adult will offer an utterance and say Elema after it, whichtranslates to Say like that. This method is used when the mother perceives an opportunity for the child to be assertive. The child will be expected to repeat the appropriate assertive speech the mother offers. However, it is important to note that the mothers never modify their language for their children.


In this sense, Kaluli children are being pushed into an accomodating situation. There is a lack of linguistic accomodation. The Kaluli do not engage in guessing what their children are saying based on their cultural belief that you can never know what another person is thinking. They believe it is the childs or the individuals job to clarify what they mean and fit themself into the situation.


The third developmental story that Ochs and Schieffelin discuss involves the Samoan culture. The Samoans live in a highly stratified social structure. People are distinguished by rank, generation, and age. Caregiving for children is also stratified - children are cared for by untitled people.


The Samoans view children as cheeky - or wild and willful. The main job of the caregiver is to teach the child respect. The parent must keep the child under control.The children are not spoken to until they speak their first word. Adults might vocalize or sing to them, but they dont engage them as a conversational partner. Additionally, they will not interpret the childs actions to the child, they will interpret them to someone else (e.g. child reaches for a bottle, instead of saying you are hungry mother will tell older brother he is hungry, get the bottle) After they speak their first word, Samoan caregivers speak to children in normal adult voice and full sentences - except when trying to control them they might use a louder, sharper tone of voice and may use mocking and threatening language to enforce control.


Samoan parents also do a lot of directing of their children. The main goal is to try to teach them how to interpret the behaviors and actions of higher status people. Children must learn to show initiative and monitor needs of higher status people and respond to them appropriately. Due to the fact that guessing is a form of accomodation and the Samoans believe parents are of higher status than their children, they do not try and guess what their children are trying to say. The social position of a child in Samoa is not equal to an adult. In order to ensure the social success of the child, it must learn how to understand and respect people of a higher status.


Ochs and Shieffelin use the three developmental stories to support their argument that baby talk register is more related to cultural socialization than language acquisition. As seen from the evidence in the developmental stories, many cultures who do not use baby talk register have no difficulties in teaching their children language. In fact many children that are raised in cultures that do not use baby talk register may be more competent at an earlier age with their language or social skills than children raised in other cultures that do use baby talk register. Ochs and Schieffelin suggest that baby-talk register is not a way to communicate with infants to facilitate language acquisition, it is more based on the specific cultures perception of children. Baby talk register conveys information about the position of the child in society, the interaction with his/her environemnet, and the expectations of a child in general.








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