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Communicative acts of young children in structured elicitation contexts MacLachlan, Shannon Lee


The relationship between communication skills over time, and the knowledge that early intervention improves a child's long-term outcome, reinforces the need for valid and reliable measures of young children's communication skills. The current study evaluated communication abilities of 34 children (1;5 - 2;0), some with and some without family history of language delay. The major purpose was to document rate, discourse type (initiation or response), mode, and speech act type in these children's communication and determine age or gender differences. A secondary objective was to determine whether standardized language test scores correlated with communicative act data. Predictions were that directives and assertives would be the most frequent speech acts and standardized language scores would correlate with speech act data. Children participated in a structured play session as part of a larger longitudinal study. An experimenter presented a series of toys and attempted to elicit communication from the child with minimal prompting. Data were audio- and video-taped, then orthographically transcribed and coded according to whether the utterance was communicative or not, where the child's focus of attention lay, whether an utterance was an initiation or response, and in what the mode and what the function of communication were. Utterance function was defined according to speech act theory, defined by Searle and Vanderveken (1985) and modified by Klincans (1991; Johnson & Klincans, 1999). Children communicated at an average rate of 8.6 utterances/ minute. Initiations increased with child age, although there was much variability among children and across activities; responses were not related to child age. Mode differed by activity, with verbalizations related to increasing child age. The most frequent speech act types were, in order, directive, assertive, and expressive, with utterances coded 'ambiguous' between directives and assertives in frequency. Significant correlations were found between speech act data and standard testing scores for: initiations and PLS-AC, verbalizations and PLS-AC, and assertives and PLS-AC, PLS-EC, and CDl scores. These results, particularly the relationship between assertives and language scores, suggest that speech act analysis can contribute to the valid and reliable evaluation of communication skills in structured contexts of children under age 2;0 and also predict some language abilities of children at this difficult-to-test age.

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