LINGUIST List 6.1771

Thu Dec 21 1995

Sum: Speaking Styles in Children`s Play

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  1. Tor-Helge Allern, Sum: Speaking styles in children`s play

Message 1: Sum: Speaking styles in children`s play

Date: Thu, 21 Dec 1995 13:19:02 Sum: Speaking styles in children`s play
From: Tor-Helge Allern <Tor.H.Allernhinesna.no>
Subject: Sum: Speaking styles in children`s play


Sum: Speaking styles in children's play.

Last September my colleague Olaf Husby sent out a request to this list on
children's speaking styles in play, and about literature related to change
of language in play. Due to a birth in my own family, I have not been able
to write this summary until now. I regret this delay, but I'm sure my
daughter will be an important source in the study of speaking styles in
children's play in the years to come!

I'm very content with the responses to the request. They varied from
concrete examples on change of speaking style, proposals for literature to
colleagues stating their general interest in the topic.

Adams Bodomo states that standard Norwegian ("bokmaal") is used coping with
issues out of the local communities, in politics, art, government....He also
argues that the elder generations who were not influenced by television in
their use of bokmaal in play, were influenced by radio and other media.
I'm not sure how long bokmaal is used as a marker for play, but it does seem
to be a tradition that is older than radio communication. Bokmaal being the
dominant written language in Norway, this might be the main source for
children's knowledge of bokmaal. For older generations high status was
connected to bokmaal, because officials such as the priest, the doctor and
the bailiff most likely spoke the "Oslo-dialect".

C. A. Creider refers to the study of Karen Larson: "Learning without
Lessons. Socialization and Language Change in Norway". She found that small
children used bokmaal when playing conflict-situations as a mean to express
power and authority. In her most interesting study Larson also states that
socialization implies the capability to change language, i.e. to change
codes of information in different contexts. Teachers change language codes
in the classroom, grown-ups have to be able to change codes when speaking to
foreigners, and the change is to standard Norwegian. The only ones that
don't vary their speaking style in this way is children, except in play.
This means that the change of speaking styles in play seems to be important
for the development of a competence in the use of language, and the
capability to vary codes of information.

Several colleagues refer to how their own children use change of language in
specific plays, but it doesn't seem to be done in exactly the same manner or
purpose. In Japan, as Naoko Ogawa writes, children use standard Japanese in
play, Standard japanese being the dialect of the middle and upper classes in
Tokyo. In Quebec, Bosse Dominique tells that children use to imitate a
parisian French, considerably different from the one spoken i France, when
they play doctor or vendor, or are playing with dolls or stuffed animals.

It has been argued that the use of a standard language or a foreign language
is used to express high status in role, but I do not think this is the main
purpose of changing language in play. It seems to me that children use the
language that differs most to their everyday language. In countries with
both a dominating written language and local dialects this is possible. I
don't think small children are aware of the connection between status or
class and language. Often they call bokmaal "play-language", and a girl from
the northern part of Norway was astonished being south on a summer holiday.
After two weeks in South-eastern Norway she told her mother: "Mummy, mummy,
here they speak play-language all the time". I think she has a point.
Children mostly use bokmaal, or high status bokmaal in south-eastern Norway,
to signal "this is play". It exists as a kind of role-dialect. My
understanding of role-dialect is that children signal that their actions
should be taken as play, not as real, and that when they use language to
signal this, they use the language they know that differs most obvious from
their everyday-language.

In my study on this I try to use "theatre-glasses", and I analyze the
language code in play in connection both to the wish to be the role and to
establish a distance to the role. The use of bokmaal to feel that the child
is the role is connected to the signal "this is play". It is easier to be
the role when the fiction is marked with another language, when the child
has dressed with another language. But it is not any necessary connection
with the roles language and the language used by the child in role. This
difference seems to be a kind of alienation effect. As Bertolt Brecht was
inspired by Asian theatre in his use of verfremdung-techniques, it seems to
me that the same technique is use by children in play. I find it most
interesting to do some more research on this topic, and I do think this
could give more understanding both to children's play and to the theatre. I
would appreciate getting in touch with those of you who find this of
interest, wether you agreee or not with my theses.


 // Tor-Helge Allern
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