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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characteristics of mothers’ interrogatives to young children Craven, Carolyn Elizabeth


This thesis investigates characteristics of the interrogatives mothers address to their children. The data, originally collected by Johnson (1981), consists of an observational study over a 2½ month period of eight mother-child pairs, a boy and a girl at each six month interval from 1;6 to 3;0. They came from middle-class, English-speaking homes. Each mother-child pair participated in six play sessions that were audio- and videotaped in a television studio living room setting. All conversation was transcribed into English orthography from the audiotapes. With the aid of the videotapes, mothers! interrogatives were identified, separated into interrogative types and coded for frequency, child's response and contextual and gestural cues. These were analyzed according to individual mother-child pairs, and the child's age and linguistic stage as defined by Brown (1973). The results showed that the frequency of interrogatives in general decrease with the child's increasing age and linguistic maturity. Early interrogatives are primarily yes/no and what questions and expand to include wh- questions through the child's development. It was also found that maternal interrogatives express a number of discourse and utterance functions early in the child's development. The most frequent, for all ages and linguistic stages, serve to continue the topic already established and to request information. An analysis of form: function correspondences showed that in terms of utterance function, mothers use a variety of forms to express a number of functions and this does not seem to change substantially through the child's development (Shatz, 1979). With regard to form: utterance function pairings, it seems that while mothers use a full range of forms to continue the topic, they do not use new question words to introduce a new topic and thus give their children maximum opportunity to succeed in answering. A look at the children's responses gives evidence against a; fine-tuning theory of maternal speech. Instead, the results suggest an increase in correct verbal responses and a decrease in no responses as the child gets older and more linguistically sophisticated. Looking at contextual and gestural cues showed that, in general, there was a decrease in interrogatives that were context-bound, although the proportion still remains about 50%; this is comparable to the literature on context. Regarding gesture, there seems to be a decrease in the number of interrogatives not accompanied by gesture, which is not substantiated by the literature concerning gesture. In general, in those instances where gesture is applicable, there is no change in maternal gesture patterns with the child's development. Overall, it seems that while mothers don't "fine-tune" their question asking to their children's age or linguistic stage, they appear to have some sense of their children's abilities and give them many opportunities to succeed. As children discover and develop their own interrogative repertoire, maternal interrogatives decrease, thus resulting in a two-sided conversation instead of a one-sided narration.

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