Children's strategies when reporting appropriate and inappropriate speech events

Maya Hickmann and David Warden


This study examines the effects of utterance form and appropriateness on how children report conversations. Children between 7 and 9 years were asked to narrate filmed dialogues that contained two types of target utterances: (a) declaratives, interrogatives, or imperatives that were used appropriately as directives; (b) declaratives and interrogatives that were inappropriate from the point of view of information exchange, i.e., that should not have been used by the interlocutors as means of giving or requesting information, given background knowledge conditions. When reporting the appropriate directive targets, the 7/8-year-olds frequently transformed declaratives into more explicit imperatives, while the 9-year-olds' reports did not vary systematically with directive types. With respect to the inappropriate targets, omissions were more frequent at 7/8 years, transformations at 9 years. Transformations consisted most often of changing the mood or modality of inappropriate declaratives to make them appropriate. Some role reversals also occurred with inappropriate interrogatives. Finally, children of all ages omitted or transformed other events preceding or following the target utterances, so as to make the dialogues coherent more globally. These findings show children's sensitivity to the forms and functions of utterances in conversations, but they also suggest developmental changes in their reporting strategies. The younger children prefer functionally transparent reports and they omit utterances in cases of inadequate conditions of use. With increasing age, children use more complex strategies to adapt some inappropriate utterances locally by transforming systematically their form, their conditions of use, and/or their functional value.

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