Describing the Developing Conversationalist

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Originally published in Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, 1978, Vol 23(10), 718–720. Reviews the book, Child Discourse edited by Susan Ervin-Tripp and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (1977). This book is a collection of papers that, with three exceptions, were presented at a symposium on child discourse at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 1974. The anthropological influence is strongly felt throughout much of the volume, both in the selection of research questions and the methods of data collection, analysis, and presentation. Another of the main themes giving the collection coherence is a social one: the question of what social knowledge is revealed by the ways children use language. The investigations of this question are organized into three sections, the first dealing with one kind or another of organized “speech event” such as narratives or arguments. In this section, varied techniques of data collection are recruited to capture the range of organized communication skills that children of different ages and different cultures display. The Cook-Gumperz article provides a transition to the second section, “Function and Act,” which stresses less of the routine or ritual aspects of speech behavior and instead focuses on the function of different speech forms. Overall, the volume provides an impressive array of examples demonstrating children's competence at managing complex social interaction with the help of linguistic devices. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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