Age and language use

Christina EnglertAgnes Engbersen
Table of contents

Since decades there is a growing body of research concerned with the conception of communication and language in the perception of age. This research has mostly been undertaken within the social sciences, gerontology and the field of nursing and caring professionals. These studies are based on a quantitative empirical-analytical research tradition and contribute considerably to our understanding of multiple communicative problems. Much of this research is in line with a view of old age as an era of physical decline and offers insights in linguistic phenomena with respect to aging processes of physical and communicative competences. There is also a growing, though still underexposed, body of studies with a different perspective on aging; these studies do not focus on declining competences, rather they provide in-depth analysis of the communicative competences of older people in various social contexts. This ‘contextual’ view on language use is strongly informed by a conception of communication as a jointly undertaken interactive event, where participants make use of their rich set of verbal and linguistic means to make themselves recognizable as an ‘aged’ person or as someone facing an ‘aged’ person. Occasionally we will refer to the broad scope of these latter studies which form the main impetus for this review.

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