Regulatory talk and politeness at the family dinner table

Åsa Brumark

Abstract

This study examined the use of regulatory talk at dinnertime in twenty Swedish families with children between the ages of four and seventeen years. The aim of the study was to explore activity regulation in the light of contextual factors, such as the age of the participating children, the number of participants and the different kinds of conversational contexts. Regulatory talk extracted from twenty videotaped dinner conversations was transcribed, coded and analysed within the framework of theories about the impact of context on control acts, indirect speech and politeness. Regulatory utterances, about 7 % of all utterances produced by all family members, were mostly formulated as direct requests and about 15 % of them were mitigated, softening the impact of coerciveness. Indirect regulators occurred, however, in nearly one half of the cases whereas hints were rather uncommon. Age of the children, as well as activity and conversational context had an obvious impact on the way regulatory utterances were performed. Most instrumental regulators (related to the dinner routine) were direct (somewhat more than 60 %) and most non-instrumental regulators were indirect (nearly 60 %). Furthermore, the intended goal i.e. what action was required from the addressee seemed to affect the use of regulators: Regulation at the dinner table mostly concerned nonverbal actions and requests for objects and was related to the main activity. Compared with the American and Israeli groups in Blum-Kulka’s study (1997), the Swedish parents together tended to be more indirect but less mitigating. However, in instrumental contexts i.e. when regulating routine actions relating to the meal, most parental regulators were direct (60 %) whereas about 75 % of the utterances were indirect in non-instrumental contexts. A comparison of these findings with the data from Blum-Kulka (1997) and with other similar intercultural studies leads to the conclusion that situational factors, such as family structure, conversational genres and communicative goals, might have more impact on regulatory talk than socio-cultural background.

Keywords:
Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Austin, J.L
(1962) How to do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Bates, E
(1976) Language and Context: The Acquisition of Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Bellinger, D
(1979) Changes in explicitness of mothers´directives as children age. Journal of Child Language 18: 41-49.Google Scholar
Blum-Kulka, S
(1987) Indirectness and politeness in requests: Same or different? Journal of Pragmatics 11: 131-146. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1990) You don´t touch lettuce with your fingers: Parental politeness in family discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 259-288. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(1994) The dynamics of family dinner-talk: Cultural contexts for the children´s passages to adult discourse. Research on Language and Social interaction 27: 1-15. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(1997) Dinner talk: Cultural patterns of sociability and socialization in family discourse. London: Lawrence Erlbaums Associates, Inc.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Brown, P., and S. Levinson
(1978) Universals in language usage: Politeness phenomena. In E. Goody (ed.), Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-311.Google Scholar
(1987) Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Brumark, Å
(1989) Blindness and the context of language acquisition. MINS 31. (Diss. Stockholm University).
(1991) Om referens och informationsstruktur i direkt närkommunikation. In B. Nordberg (ed.), Svenskans beskrivning 18, FUMS, The University of Uppsala.
(2003) What do we do when we talk at dinner. Working Papers. Huddinge: Södertörn University college.Google Scholar
in press) Democracy starts at the dinner table. Working Paper 2003/6. Stockholm: Södertorn University College.
Cherry, R.D
(1988) Politeness in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 12: 63-81. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Coulthard, M
(1978) An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. Harlow, United Kingdom: Longman Group Ltd.Google Scholar
Cross, T.G
(1977) Mother´s speech adjustments: The contribution of selected child listener variables. In C.E. Snow, & C.A. Ferguson (eds.), Talking to Children: Language input and Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
De Geer, B., and T. Tulviste
(2002) Behaviour regulation in the family context in Estonia and Sweden. Pragmatics 12.3: 329-346.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Donaldson, S.K
(1987) Some Constraints of Consideration on Conversation: Interactions of Politeness and Relevance with Grice´s Secon Maxim of Quantity. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International (Diss. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois-Champaign, 1984).Google Scholar
Dore, J
(1977) Children´s illocutionary acts. Discourse Processes 1: 227-244.Google Scholar
Ervin-Tripp, S
(1976) Is Sybil there? The structure of some American English directives. Language in Society 5: 26-66. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1982) “Ask and it shall be given you”: Children´s requests. In H. Byrnes (ed.), Georgetown Roundtable on Languages and Linguisitics. Vol. 35. Washingtown DC: Georgetown University, pp. 235-245.Google Scholar
Ervin-Tripp, S., and D. Gordon
(1986) The development of children´s requests. In R.E. Schieffelbush (ed.), Communicative competence: Assessment and intervention. San Diego, CA: College Hill Press, pp. 61-96.Google Scholar
Ervin-Tripp, S., J. Guo, and M. Lampert
(1990) Politeness and persuasion in children`s control acts. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 307-331. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Fraser, B
(1990) Perspectives on politeness. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 219-236. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Garcia, C
(1993) Making a request and responding to it: A case study of Peruvian Spanish speakers. Journal of Pragmatics 19: 127-152. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Garvey, C
(1977) Contingent queries and their relation in discourse. In E. Ochs, & B. Schieffelin (eds.), Developmental Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Goffman, E
(1967) Interactional ritual: Essays on face to face behaviour. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
(1974) Frame analysis. New York: Penguin.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1981) Forms of talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Goodwin, M.H
(1990) He-Said-She-Said. Talk as social organization among black children. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Grice, H. Paul
(1975) Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech acts. New York: Academic Press, pp. 41-58.Google Scholar
Handelman, D
(1990) Models and mirrors. Toward an anthropology of public events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hellspong, L
(1988) Regulation of dialogue. A theoretical model of conversation with an empirical application. MINS 30. (Diss. Stockholm University).
Hymes, D
(1974) Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadelphia: University of Pensylvania Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Kasper, G
(1990) Linguistic politeness: Current research issues. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 193-218. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Lakoff, R
(1977) Politeness, pragmatics and performatives. In A. Rogers, B. Wall and J.P. Murphy (eds.), Proceedings of the Texas Conference on Performatives, Presuppositions and Implicatures. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Leech, G.N
(1980) Language and Tact. Pragmatics and Beyond Series. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Linell, P
(1998) Approaching dialogue: Talk, interaction and contexts in dialogical perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Linell, P., and L. Gustavsson
(1987) Initiativ och respons. Om dialogens dynamik, dominans och koherens. SIC 15. University of Linköping. Studies in Communication.
Levinson, S.C
(1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Mac Whinney
(1991) The CHILDES project: Tools for analyzing talk. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
Rosaldo, M.Z
(1982) The things we do with words: Ilongot speech acts and speech act theory in philosophy. Language in Society 11: 203-237. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Sacks, H., E. Schegloff, and G. Jefferson
(1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn taking in conversation. Language 50: 696-735. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Searle, J.R
(1969) Speech acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(1975) Indirect Speech Acts. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech acts. New York: Academic Press, pp. 59-82.Google Scholar
Scollon, R., and S.B. Scollon
(1981) Narrative, Literacy and Face in Interethnic Communication. Norwood, N. J.: Ablex.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Sinclair, J., and R.M. Coulthard
(1974) Towards an analysis of Discourse. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Snow, C.E., R.Y. Perlmann, J.B. Gleason, and N. Hooshyar
(1990) Developmental perspectives on politeness: Sources of children´s knowledge. Journal of Pragmatics 14: 289-305.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Tannen, D
(1981) Indirectness in discourse: Ethnicity as conversational style. Discourse Processes 4: 221-238. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Tryggvasson, M-T., and B. De Geer
(2002) Eliciting talk as language socialization in Finnish, SwedishFinnish and Swedish families: A look at syntactic structures. Multilingua 21: 345-369. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Van Dijk
T (1981) Studies in pragmatic discourse. The Hague: Mouton. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Van der Wijst
P (1996) Politeness in requests and negotiations. Ph.D. thesis. Tilburg: Katholieke Universiteit van Brabant.
Watts, R.J
(1991) Power in family discourse. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Wierzbicka, A
(1985) Different cultures, different language, different speech acts: Polish vs. English. Journal of Pragmatics 9.2/3: 145-78. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar