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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An ethnography of communication and its implications for teachers of native Indian students Nowell Preston, Jo-Anne


One urban native Indian community was observed over a period of seven months in order to: 1. Complete an ethnography of communication, describing the sociolinguistic rules of interaction followed by members of one Native community. 2. Examine the school environment to see whether differences between Mainstream rules for interaction and native Indian rules for interaction may cause miscommunication. 3. Discuss ways in which teachers can be better prepared for Standard English as a Second Dialect situations, either in special S.E.S.D. programs, or as classroom teachers. Data were collected in a wide variety of situations, mainly involving school age children and their interactants, in mainly pedagogical and school settings. Observation showed considerable diversity in the communication behaviours of community members. This variation occurred in two dimensions: young-old and traditional-Mainstream, and was especially apparent in four areas: volume, intonation, pause-time and eye contact. Degree of intimacy and age of participants seemed to be important in determining whether a situation was classed as speech or nonspeech. In addition, many sociolinguistic behaviours seemed linked to (if not generated by) various value orientations. The value "respect elders" was reflected in rules for interruptions, topic control, and the absence of "why" challenges. Respect for the individual seemed to be the basis for rules regarding introductions, performance, pulling strings, requesting assistance, and children's degree of independence. The importance of family appeared to influence topic choice, and naming. An avoidance of drawing attention to oneself seemed to explain rules for greetings, farewells, showing off, praise, and taking oneself seriously. Finally, this community appeared to be more context-oriented than Mainstream society. A comparison of home-talk and school-talk suggested differences in the use of directives, closed questions, and in assumptions about when to talk, specifically regarding degree of intimacy, focus on task, and getting communicative space. Findings of this study suggest that teachers can facilitate communication (and thus education) in five ways, by: 1. Getting out of the classroom and into the community. 2. Dealing with parents on their terms. 3. Adjusting classroom atmosphere. 4. Adjusting classroom language. 5. Teaching sociolinguistic rules.

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