Language Socialization
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 15: 163-191 (Volume publication date October 1986)
B B Schieffelin, and E Ochs
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor….

My dearest Simone,

In reading “Language Socialization” and thinking about how language is used to instruct about culture, I thought more on the baby talk exercises in my extended family. Schieffelin and Ochs write about how some children’s early encounters with language are more one-on-one, mostly caregiver to child, and how others have an early immersion into multi-person conversations and how the latter learn early that conversations can be complicated and multi-layered. They also speak about how children “must learn how to appropriately convey their feelings to others as well as to recognize the moods and emotions that others display.” It seems the baby talk exercises in my family meant immersion from birth into multi-person conversations for the infant as well as early instruction on reading and interpreting emotions and affect. Here’s something I wrote earlier:

When I was younger, there was much baby talk on behalf of the fetus and on behalf of the infant. Older people would talk on behalf of infants (much the same way one might talk in place of a stuffed toy for a child) at least through a time at which the infant was aware that the talk/speech had to do with her. There was an expectation that the older speaker would pay attention to the facial expressions and body language of the infant when creating communication on behalf of the infant. Other would-be speakers might challenge poor interpretation and take up speaking for the infant with a “no, I don’t think that…” I remember these interaction being fun social experiences. Even very young children could give a go at speaking on behalf of the infant as long as the would-be speaker had the requisite language and observational skills.

I felt the whole experience helped communication between children in the family and between children and adults. I think it encouraged a wholistic approach to interpreting communications from children. The authors write of a divide between “child-centered communication” and “situation-centered communication,” and how adults with a child-centered orientation make a greater effort to decipher the verbal utterances of the child in an effort to understand what the child is trying to communicate,  and how those who were situation-centered paid less attention to or even ignored the verbal utterances of a child. I wonder whether it’s not so much that situation-centered adults were ignoring the verbal utterance, as much as it was that the verbal utterances were one of many clues used to decipher the desires of the child, along with facial expressions and body language and environmental cues.

Seems I’m pressing closer and closer to my Monday before midnight deadline for writing to you. Next week, I’ll post earlier.

Many warm thoughts,

P. S.  It’s my grandmother’s birthday.  (Happy Birthday, Granny!)