15.2348, Review: Discourse Analysis/Lang Acq: Blum-Kulka & Snow

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2348. Fri Aug 20 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2348, Review: Discourse Analysis/Lang Acq: Blum-Kulka & Snow

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Date:  Thu, 19 Aug 2004 12:43:41 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Jeanette Ireland <jireland at primus.ca>
Subject:  Talking to Adults

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 19 Aug 2004 12:43:41 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Jeanette Ireland <jireland at primus.ca>
Subject:  Talking to Adults

EDITOR: Blum-Kulka, Shoshana; Snow, Catherine E.
TITLE: Talking to Adults
SUBTITLE: The Contribution of Multiparty Discourse to Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2002
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1444.html

Jeanette Ireland, St. Mary's University, Halifax, NS


The principal objective of this edited volume is to draw together
empirical research which focuses on children's language learning in
naturalistic contexts. That is, in contexts which are "multiparty and
multigenerational" (p.4). Nine contributors were each asked to submit
a chapter focusing on new empirical work which investigates the
development of specific discourse dimensions as opposed to
traditional, descriptive, anthropological approaches which pay
simultaneous attention to the full array of opportunities for children
to become socialized into appropriate language use in any given
context in any given society. Consequently, the editors hope to adopt,
and project, a cognitive- psychological perspective on exactly what
and how children learn, and how these factors relate to their
opportunities to learn.  That is, they are interested in the ways in
which this approach deals with "the process of learning, its analysis
of the learning task, its demand for evidence about what the child has
learned" and its "focus on individual differences among children"


This collection of twelve papers is organized into three thematically
related parts and in the introduction, the authors establish for the
reader, the theoretical context and framework. This is done via a
comprehensive discussion of the rationale for investigating multiparty
rather than dyadic interaction, and it situates the current volume
within the framework of changes which have occurred in the study of
language acquisition over the past thirty-five years. The discussion
also previews for the reader, some of the issues emerging from the
data contained in the chapters. Some of these issues, for example,
"varieties of language", "genre shifting", "decontextualized language,
reasoning, and argumentation", "indirectness", would appear to be
predictive of findings which contain significant implications for
dealing with the pragmatic, linguistic and cognitive problems that
young children face in the transition from speaking and conversational
understanding to writing and print-based understanding (Cook-Gumperz,
1986). This conjecture is supported by the fact that although the
volume is devoted to multiparty, multigenerational discourse, the
editors view the principles as being equally relevant to the
investigation of multiparty peer interactions. In addition, and what
makes this preview particularly valuable is that each issue listed is
supported by reference to studies and research findings related to,
but outside the scope of the current volume - a very good list for
comparative and supplementary reading.


The five chapters in this first section deal with the examination of
the means and opportunities available for children to learn how to
participate in, and produce extended discourse, in both family and
peer settings. As the title suggests, the particular discourse
dimensions examined are storytelling and explanation.

Ch. 1: Beals and Snow, "Deciding What to Tell: Selecting and
Elaborating Narrative Topics in Family Interaction and Children's
Elicited Personal Experience Stories". The authors begin with the
premise that previous studies of storytelling among children, have
viewed the activity as a skill with respect to features which define
mature narrative and therefore, contribute little to our understanding
of how children spontaneously and naturally tell stories in the course
of peer play and family talk. They argue that for an understanding of
how narrative competence develops, it needs to be studied in the
context of "varying settings and participation structures, many of
which involve more than a single adult" (p.15).

Drawing on narrative data from the Home-School Study of Language and
Literacy Development (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Snow 1991) where the
focus was on identifying oral language situations and environments
which might be predictive of later language and literacy development,
the authors explore the relationships between the natural storytelling
experiences which children engage in at home (at the dinner table) and
the more performative experiences designed to elicit a scary story.
They were particularly interested in the possibility that "children
who had considerable practice at the dinner table" would turn out "to
be better autonomous narrators in the elicitation settings." (p.30).
Autonomous narrators are defined according to their ability "to select
a tellable topic, to produce a coherent narrative and to engage the
audience" (p.16) in effective ways.

Although the children achieved narrative success in the multiparty
context of the family dinner table, in the task designed to elicit a
scary story, very few were able to initiate a story and tell it
independently. This, the authors conclude is a result of the fact that
"the demand characteristics and participation structures in these two
settings were very different"; and that narrative success depends more
on the interactants' abilities to recognize and support each other's
topic selection, and [to collaborate in enabling the] storytelling as
much as it does on any individual's narrative competence.

Coming at the beginning of the book, this chapter raises many issues
that are dealt with in later chapters. It also firmly establishes the
fact that much more can be learned about how children acquire
narrative and other interactive skills by examining multiparty
interactions rather than dyadic ones.

Ch 2. Georgakopoulou, Greek Children and Familiar Narratives in Family
Contexts: En Route to Cultural Performances. This chapter further
develops the study of children's participation in narrative events
occurring within family activities. The author posits that these
events are "modes of sociocultural, symbolic action...a joint,
discursive achievement that is [both] locally occasioned
and... enmeshed in larger (cultural) structures of meaning"
(p.33). The discussion centres on the main participation roles and
social relations that Greek children enact and gain experience in
through multiparty family interaction; and important cultural
functions of Greek storytelling and its uses for pragmatic
socialization are uncovered.

In a society characterized as narrative and performance oriented in
its everyday interactions, familiar stories are salient in Greek
family conversations. Shared or familiar narratives, occurring in
mealtime conversations, present storytelling events which have
"immense potential for reformulation" (p.34). This has significance
for the examination of the ways in which Greek children participate
in, and perform in the storytelling events. The analysis of their
participation as co-tellers and as main tellers-performers reveals
culturally defined regulatory patterns of story ownership,
contextualization, and family positionings and alliances within the
narratives and within the storytelling activity itself. The most
important question (I believe) arising from this preference for shared
experience and (re)telling, is associated with a child's movement from
a negotiated, oral performance- based understanding to
written-text-based access to inter-culturally accumulated
knowledge. Blum-Kulka and Snow (1992) argue that stories, the events
of which are known only to the teller (A-event stories), provide a
better preparation for the autonomous, decontextualized language that
is demanded of children in school. However, Georgakopoulous presents a
very compelling argument that for education systems which focus on the
rhetorics of "how" [and why] rather than "what", recontextualization,
such as occurs in the present data should not be omitted. Such
reformulations (Wells, 1986) are integral to the development of
literacy skills and should not be discarded as irrelevant or invalid.

Ch 3. Aukrust, "What Did You Do in School Today?" Speech Genres and
Tellability in Multiparty Mealtime Conversations in Two Cultures. This
chapter is also concerned with the opportunities offered during family
mealtimes to young children for conversational participation and
pragmatic learning; but this time, in families from two different
cultures - Norwegian and N. American. While discussing the merits of
theories of "scaffolded" (Bruner, 1983) or "fine-tuned" (Snow, 1995)
dyadic interactions Aukrust assumes a balanced approach between these
and other studies, including cross-cultural studies, which favour the
benefits of learning in multiparty interactions. It is argued that
accounts of both the notion of speech genres and of culturally
specific tellability need to be considered. Speech genres, although
relatively stable, may invite different types of participation, some
more frequent or more complex in multiparty settings and some may
invite only two participants, even when more are present; also,
cultures may differ with respect to what is worthy of talk.

The discourse domains, narratives and explanations, are jointly
selected for this chapter because although they differ in their
specific rules and organization, they are both produced during
conversational exchanges in extended segments of text, and often over
several turns. Data analyzed by this reviewer confirms these
observations and adds that in extended conversations these domains
continually overlap, inviting multiple layers of participant
structure.  The discussion is divided into two main sections, each
reflecting the differences across these two cultures in the focus of
mealtime conversations, that is, the primacy of narrative in the
Norwegian data versus the more asymmetric explanatory genre in the
American data. Both of these sections involve extremely complex
analyses and explorations of pragmatic skills that children may
acquire in certain participant structures within certain culturally
molded parameters. Nevertheless, both reveal that the developmental
impact of participation in multiparty versus dyadic interaction in
different cultures cannot be discussed separately from cultural codes
of what is worthy of talk.

The initial premise is very well defended, but however, because of the
complexity of interrelationships among the participant structure
categories and subcategories, speech genres and cultural tellability
factors, it is often difficult to sort out exactly what has been
revealed. That is, at times the discussion appears to be dealing with
the impact of genre on the participant structures and at other times,
the obverse appears to be the case. Perhaps this is the major
difficulty of this type of inquiry that each of these factors has
reciprocal impact on the others. Fortunately, the excellent concluding
section (pp.80, 81) not only clarifies the findings but also propels
the reader back to the relevant section(s) for further clarification
and confirmation.

Ch 4. Blum-Kulka, "Do You Believe That Lot's Wife Is Blocking the Road
(to Jericho)?": Co-Constructing Theories About the World With Adults.
In this chapter, Blum-Kulka makes a close examination of how children
learn to explain in everyday multiparty discourse. The analytical
approach treats explanations as "interactional moves emerging in
natural discourse in response to some need or problematic state of
affairs" (p. 87); and ways in which participants recognize and orient
themselves to stretches of explanatory talk are examined. That is, the
actual stretch of discourse is examined as a text type, a genre, and
not simply as a speech act. This raises the methodological problem of
identifying explanatory sequences in natural discourse and the author
devotes a section, complete with examples from the data, to the
discussion of a set of criteria for identification, and to the listing
of six discourse indicators which justify the inclusion of each type
in the genre. The final item in this list, comprised of two
categories, is probably the most critical and the most useful for
analytical purposes is, "Talk embedded in narratives to explain the
motives of the protagonists, and narratives used to explain an overall
principle".  This genre mixing clearly identifies the sequences as
explanatory, and as belonging to a specific subgenre within family

The analysis of explanatory sequences by identity of initiators and
explainers shows the active participation of all present. Although
parents provide most explanations (49.5%), children initiate more than
a third (37%). In this way, the talk is collaborative and symmetrical
in that children and parents are alternatively set up conversationally
as being the authoritative source of particular kinds of knowledge.
What is most interesting is that nowhere in the sample sequences, is a
child's initiation/contribution dismissed and obviously, the children
have no fear that it might be. This is in sharp contrast to fears
discovered among children in classroom contexts where either they were
afraid to initiate explanations in case they might look silly
(Allwright, 1998), or that their contribution would not be accepted as
relevant or perhaps be dismissed as nonsense (Michaels, 1986).
Apparently, educators need to seriously consider Blum-Kulka's
concluding discussion of the potential contribution that explanatory
talk in the naturalistic context of the family can make to pragmatic
development and consequently to school success.

Ch 5. Nicolopoulou, Peer-Group Culture and Narrative Development. This
chapter, coming at the end of the first section, attempts to reinforce
the central organizing theme by extending the investigation of the
impact of multiparty discourse on children's language development
beyond the context of the family dinner table. The author provides a
lengthy discussion of how powerful theoretical resources such as the
works of Vygotsky and Piaget have yet to be fully interpreted and
exploited with respect to the developmental significance of
peer-group, i.e. child-child narrative activity. While a substantial
body of research has found that the mastery of narrative skills is
crucial for success in formal education, Nicopopoulou suggests that
these studies have been limited in two key respects; first, that they
have dealt with "factual" accounts of experience, neglecting fantasy
or fictional narratives, and second, that the "social context" of
narrative development generally, has been "conceived narrowly in terms
of adult- child interaction" (p.119). Consequently, this study is
focuses on the transcripts of spontaneous stories dictated to the
teacher by individual children, which were later read aloud, by the
teacher, to facilitate the enactment and participation by the entire
child-child group. The transcripts were later analyzed for linguistic
complexity and representations of character.

This chapter suffers from over-explanation of the theoretical
framework for the concept of "social context" and the dynamics of
narrative collaboration in a peer group culture. The many referrals to
extensive other sources for "a useful review" or "some elaboration"
etc., disrupt the reading and interfere with the flow of the
argument. In addition, although the evaluations of the data confirm
that this peer-oriented storytelling-acting practice can serve as a
powerful context for promoting young children's narrative development,
the description of the actual classroom practice is vague and very
little story data is included in the discussion. In fact, it is not
until nearly the end of the chapter that we find actual transcripts of
the stories, and then, only two are provided. As an educator with long
experience of "taking dictation" from young children and knowing the
compelling urge to enable and elicit elaboration, I found myself
constantly questioning the extent to which these activities were truly
child-child narrative building exercises, or indeed, multiparty as
opposed to dyadic. A more explicit exposition of the classroom data
might have helped to resolve these questions.


The three chapters in this section focus on the affective and
nonliteral aspects of language use such as: socialization of pragmatic
rules of appropriate affective displays, the value of humor in
cognitive development, and the functioning and characteristics of
verbal playfulness when parents and children are involved in the

Ch 6. Hérot, Socialization of Affect During Mealtime Interactions
Working with the same mealtime data which is examined in Ch.1, Hérot
examines how affect, positive and negative, is conveyed in the context
of family dinner talk, and what effects, if any, are the result of
multiparty versus dyadic interactions. Warmth and patience, central
tenets of successful childrearing which must be taken into account in
family interactions, are expressed both verbally and non-verbally
through body language and tone of voice. In order to more clearly
delineate these non-verbal contributions, the author utilizes her own
coding system for measuring the characteristics of warmth and patience
exhibited in each mother's tone of voice. This approach to the
socialization of affect offers "two complementary vantage points" from
which to analyze the affective environment (p. 162).

Unlike the previous chapter, a wealth of data is provided to support
the discussion and analytical results, and a considerable amount
clearly demonstrates that tone of voice is a strong indicator of the
warmth or coldness of the environment within which the children are
raised. This in turn, impacts on their cognitive and socio-emotional
growth in that experiencing positive or negative parental affect can
induce parallel affective reactions in the child.

Family configurations varied from single parent dyadic settings to
multiparty, extended family groupings, yet analyses from each,
positive or negative are treated with great sensitivity such that, it
is reported that although the highest percentage of negative affect
occurred during family meals where the mother was the only adult among
more than one child, a large number of these mothers still displayed
consistent positive nonverbal affect. The author concludes with the
recommendation that while the analyses were made on a single mealtime
event for each of the families, our understanding of parental
socialization as children become older, could be furthered by a
similar analysis of additional mealtime conversations.

Ch 7. Nevat-Gal, Cognitive Expressions and Humorous Phrases in Family
Discourse as Reflectors and Cultivators of Cognition. Using both sets
of Blum-Kulka data (this volume, Ch.4, and Blum-Kulka and Snow, 1997),
Nevat-Gal focuses on two linguistic phenomena which routinely occur
during the family dinner conversations. These are, "the multiple usage
of cognitive expressions and versatile linguistic usage to create a
humorous effect" (p. 181). These are shown to induce the enculturation
of thinking modes and the enhancement of cognitive development.

The recorded conversations were analyzed both qualitatively and
quantitatively, cognitive expressions being marked following the
technique used in Snow (1991) for identifying reminiscences. All
instances of the use of cognitive verbs such as "know", "think",
"intend", "remember", "understand", etc.; as well as nouns pertaining
to thought, for example, "problem", "plan", "experiment" etc. were
examined. For humorous expressions, judgments were made with respect
to the intentions of the expressions, that is, their illocutionary
force.  The analysis was performed on all expressions and speech acts
based on the assumption that discourse socializes whether the children
are participants as talkers or as listeners.

The author demonstrates that many of the features characteristic of
metacognitive activity such as critical thinking, problem awareness
and responsibility, strategies for managing thought processes,
planning and exchanging ideas etc., are indicated through and by the
use of both cognitive and humorous expressions. In addition, these
expressions are used to "regulate communication, to express awareness
of the maxims of quality and relevance needed for continued
cooperation" (p.206). Nevat- Gal's analytical insight, that this dual
function, concerned with both communication maintenance and thinking
management is indicated by the very same expressions, clearly has
implications for investigations of conditions for academic success.

Ch. 8. Fasulo, Liberati and Pontecorvo, Language Games in the Strict
Sense of the Term: Children's Poetics and Conversation. Following
logically from the previous chapter, the authors examine the poetics
of the playful exchanges which they found to be recurrent in the
dinner table talk of twenty families, each consisting of 2 parents
plus 2 children. The data revealed frequent occurrences of
"prepatterned" speech such as that identified by Tannen (1989)
including poems, songs, different types of rhymes and instances of
folklore. This raises theoretical questions concerning whether
spontaneous poetics should be studied under "speech play"
(non-purposeful, creative and exploratory) or "verbal game" (roles
linked to particular positions in the structure of the activity) or
even "ritual" (rigid, routine-like). After weighing the merits of each
of these perspectives the authors conclude that family conversations
exhibit many features which are characteristic of verbal games. That
is, they represent an ordered system of activity having "sequential
relevance, turn taking as a machinery of distribution of speaking
role, and the constitution, through different types of turns, of the
relative kinds of speakership" (p.212). This is aligned with "speech
play", as per Basso (1979), that "'as an instrument of
metacommunication...play is intrinsically purposeful and inevitably
consequential'" (Ibid).

Long series of poemlike units appear in the dinner table speech play
performances. These are demarcated with clear points of transitional
relevance where turn taking can occur and the shaped similarity
between each verse appears to assist in the recognition and evaluation
of the innovated parts. Although these young children seem to hold a
strict connection between sign and signified, they nevertheless appear
to be aware of the arbitrariness of what is being invented. Neologisms
appear in these sequences as a kind of verbal play in which everyone
gets to share, including the younger child and in addition, the end of
each unit is signaled by a concluding intonation, followed by an
evaluative section.

Thus it is clearly demonstrate that prepatterned strings of language
occasioned by the family corpus of folklore, songs, etc., help
children attain the speaker's position and provide the scaffolding
that helps them perform at a higher level of competence in interaction
with their parents and siblings. In addition, evidence is provided
that playing with language is not random or chaotic and devoid of
pragmatic functionality. Instead, the "poetics" of rhymes and song,
embedded in conversation, are timed and shaped in conversationally
appropriate ways.


These three chapters focus on cultural influences in socialization
practices which impact on pragmatic and cognitive development. Each
examines a specific context for adult- child interaction to discover
what the children learn that is culturally appropriate and how they go
about putting it into practice in their interactions with others.

Ch 9. Brown, Everyone Has to Lie in Tzeltal. Here, the author examines
the concepts of "lies" and "truths" as they apply to socialization
practices in a rural Mayan community and asks the question, "How do
children learn the meaning of lie, in their society, and the
culturally appropriate ways of lying?" (p. 243). Brown describes how
in this small-scale, face-to-face community where forms of social
control and decision making are almost exclusively oral, routine lying
or indirect use of language is the cultural norm. Lies in the form of
scare threats and warnings in efforts to control behaviour, are
routinely told to children between the ages of 1.6m and 4 years, but
threats are rarely carried out. There are surprising consequences of
this practice, not the least of which is the earliness of the age (2-3
years) at which Tzeltal children learn, by virtue of the fact that
threats will not, or cannot be enforced and so, can be
ignored. Consequently, they appear to understand the difference
between the state of the world and the words used to describe it. This
is evidenced in their ability to engage in a type of lying, an ironic
"backwards talk" that is appropriate to this community. By the age of
4, there is a sudden shift in behaviour, and children suddenly comply
with caretaker commands, but also begin to participate in issuing
scare threats and false statements to younger siblings, with explicit
instruction from parents and older family members.

Brown provides several transcripts to illustrate these practices and
discusses the data in relation to perceptions of lying cross-
linguistically, and to the possible effects of systematic lying on
Tzeltal children's linguistic, cognitive and social development.
Whereas, theory of mind theorists might consider 4 year olds too young
to have the mental awareness that others can hold false beliefs and
can also persuade others to hold them, through early training in the
use of language which is routinely non-factual, Tzeltal children
become very adept at producing lies as well as producing and
understanding culturally appropriate ironic utterances. The data also
shows that this training leads children into taking on responsibility
early, for cooperating with the social unit and ensuring that even
younger children also cooperate and are brought "quickly to culturally
stabilized and pragmatically effective indirect uses of language"

Ch 10. Voice and Collusion in Adult-Child Talk: Toward an Architecture
of Intersubjectivity. Drawing on Bakhtin (1984), this chapter examines
and compares the peer play of preschoolers and school-age children in
order to discover how much they know about multivoicedness and
multiplicity of roles. The context chosen is a pediatric scenario
involving a doctor-patient-parent triad. The assumption is made that
children's role play can be seen as a type of fictional genre within a
dramaturgic perspective, and that such a fiction reflects societal
hierarchies and the complexities of real life discourse. Thus, there
is a need to focus on intersubjectivity on different levels, and the
stated aim is to disclose some of the complexities involved, through
an analysis of multivoicedness in talk, including ways which involve
subversive voices, i.e. levels of saying, or double voiced discourse.

While a detailed description of the connectivity between the concepts
of intersubjectivity multivoicedness and collusion is potentially
confusing, the authors successfully guide the reader through various
theoretical considerations from previous studies. There is an
interesting argument for not simply equating "voices" with "roles"
which situates the present study within a voice-type model for
analysis, rather than a phase (emplotment- enactment) or frame-type
model. The selection of this model is effective in that
multivoicedness was discovered in the children's fine differentiation
between pretend and nonpretend voices as well as between different
pretend role voices.  In addition, evidence that the children were
aware of the subversive quality of adult-child talk (in the Bakhtinian
sense) could be found in the ways both age groups employed subversion
in indexing speaker roles, particularly, the collusive "we" of medical
authority. Two very useful tables, Table 10.1 (p.281) "Levels of
Reality - Frame Models and Voice Models", and Table 10.5 (p. 291),
[levels of] "Intersubjectivity and Social Co-ordination" clarify the
theoretical concepts and contexts.  However, it may have been more
helpful for readers unfamiliar with Bakhtin or dramaturgy, if these
had been arranged closer together in the text. In any event,
regardless of background knowledge, this chapter rewards very close

Ch 11. Kasuya, Bilingual Context for Language Development. This
chapter focuses on the complex but fascinating concept of growing up
to be successfully and actively bilingual in a "linguistically mixed"
family (p.298). Kasuya discusses the dynamic interrelationships which
exist among contributing factors such as family circumstances, social,
affective and ethnic goals, and purposes for interacting in either or
both languages, particularly when one parent may be the sole
transmitter of a minority language. To examine how actual bilingual
discourse might promote bilingualism as a goal of language
socialization, data was drawn from two bilingual (Japanese/English)
families living in the United States and two parallel issues of
childhood bilingualism are addressed. These include the circumstances
under which it is likely that a child will learn two languages, and
the ways in which our understanding of bilingualism might change when
we view it as a product of socialization from birth.

Before examining how children participate in bilingual family
interactions, the author first examines multiparty conversations among
bilingual adults. These demonstrate how the "language choice
mechanism" functions (p. 299), and with the addition of parental
reports on their conscious language strategies in the home (code
switching, and mixing), Kasuya was able to focus on how speakers in
bilingual situations choose the appropriate language with a particular
person in a particular context. Analysis of all the data revealed not
only code switching but also extensive language mixing in response to
factors such as the degree of shared knowledge, sociocultural and
lexical collocations specific to either one of the languages
etc. Often, these practices are viewed as signs that the minority
language is in jeopardy. However, the author demonstrates that in
multiparty interactions with both parents, children need to learn
these code switching/mixing strategies if the minority language is to
be maintained. Thus we are shown how the different language
socialization experiences of bilingual parents can provide an enriched
linguistic environment and have a positive impact on their children's

This study is of relevance to all Canadians, since bilingualism has
official status, but it is of particular relevance to language
communities which are concerned to ensure that their young people
become fully competent sociolinguistically as active bilinguals.

Ch 12. Snow & Blum-Kulka, From Home to School: School-Age Children
Talking With Adults. In this concluding chapter, the editors pull
together the principal important findings which emerged throughout the
volume, i.e. the wide range and scope of interactive and discourse
skills which are encompassed in the domain of what children need to
know about language; and the ways in which participation in multiparty
discourse provides opportunities for children to learn how to function
as members of their families and peer groups. In addition, they
discuss the role that the knowledge and skills acquired in these
multiparty conversations plays in the promotion of children's success
in school, both in classroom participation and literacy.

While many recent studies of classroom talk have exploited the IRE
(Initiation, Response, Evaluation) sequence (Sinclair & Coulthard,
1975), most have been concerned with the overall structure and
dynamics of the relation between classroom talk and the progress of
lesson plans, as much with respect to the quality of teaching as with
the quality of learning. Nevertheless, these studies clearly
demonstrate that data on classroom discourse is focused on
asymmetrical dyadic interactions and because of the different
discourse demands associated with different subject matters,
children's contributions may be judged on the basis of criteria that
are opaque to the child. Being content in this chapter, to present
examples of the kind of learning about communication supported in
classroom settings, the editors hope that this volume will stimulate
an interest in paying attention to classroom discourse from a
multiadic perspective.


This is an important collection of research in two major respects.
First, although each chapter deals with the acquisition of a specific
discourse domain, the theoretical frameworks encompass a wide range of
analytical perspectives. Speech act theory, semiotics, stylistics,
translation theory, bilingualism, language maintenance and loss,
cross- cultural pragmatics, and more are invoked. Second, with the
substantial increase in the number of children who spend a large part
of their day in day-care centres and pre- school institutions, the
findings here are important for educators at all levels. Each chapter
clearly demonstrates that by the time children reach school age, they
already know a great deal about language and culturally appropriate
ways of interacting. This has obvious implications for teacher
assessments of readiness for reading, for assessments of verbal
performance, preparation for writing etc.; all domains within which
development continues after the preschool years and which ought to be
able to build on previously acquired skills. A comparison of Chapters
1 and 5 demonstrates that knowledge of how children express and
exploit the cognitive and linguistic skills they have already acquired
at home would help educators to design more appropriately, children's
opportunities to learn the new skills and patterns of interaction
necessary for school success.

Aside from its contribution to early education, this book holds
importance for theories of discourse and pragmatics. Its focus on the
analysis of one specific domain per chapter emphasizes the wide range
of discourse domains that exist in everyday interactions but it also
highlights the fact that many more still need to be addressed,
particularly those in cross-cultural and bilingual contexts. This is
particularly important in modern N. American contexts, not simply
because of the multicultural, multilingual features associated with
immigration, or economy driven movement within the continent, but also
because of the widening socioeconomic gaps which separate middle-class
families from other working class or single parent families. Chapters
2,3 and 9 will be of particular interest to those working in
communities of a culture and home language different from their own;
especially cultures which are concerned to keep alive, the oral
traditions which constitute the fabric of their community and society.

This review has taken a sequential approach to the reading and
certainly, each chapter appears to build on the previous one,
particularly in Part 1. However, this should not discourage any reader
from "dipping into" sections or chapters of particular interest,
because each one firmly situates the current study in the context of
previous or earlier investigations. Yet in order for the volume to
meet all of its aims, each chapter deserves at least one reading and
hopefully, will act as a springboard to further research.


Allwright, Dick. 1998. "Contextual factors in classroom language
learning: an overview". in K.Malmkjaer and J. Williams (Eds.) Context
in Language Learning and Language Understanding. Cambridge; CUP

Cook-Gumperz, Jenny. 1986. The Social Construction of Literacy.
Cambridge, London, New York, Sydney; CUP.

Michaels, S. 1986. "Narrative presentations: an oral preparation for
literacy with first- graders", in J. Cook-Gumperz, The Social
Construction of Literacy. Cambridge, London, New York, Sydney; CUP.

Sinclair, J. McH., & Coulthard, R.M. 1975. Towards an Analysis of
Discourse. The English used by teachers and pupils. Oxford; OUP

Wells, G. 1986. "The language experience of five-year-old children at
home and at school", in J. Cook-Gumprez, The Social Construction of
Literacy. Cambridge, London, New York, Sydney; CUP.


Jeanette Ireland is a long time educator and is currently lecturing in
linguistic analysis at St. Mary's University, Halifax, NS. Her main
research interests are in oral discourse genres, particularly
multiparty and performance constructions, and in how these differ
from, yet contribute to their written counterparts. Work with the
translation and structural analysis of Inuit oracy as it pertains to
the performances of individual, culturally acclaimed storytellers has
involved her in the production and publication of culturally
appropriate written texts, to be offered to students in the elementary
school system. More recently, she has been examining the impaired
conversational and pragmatic abilities of people diagnosed with
dementia of the Alzheimer type.


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