eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society cover
The Yearbook of the Estonian Mother Tongue Society

Direktiivsed kõneaktid eelkooliealistele lastele suunatud kõnes, nende seotus lapsevanema haridustasemega ja mõju lapse sõnavarale; pp. 37–64

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Andra Kütt


Directive speech acts in child directed speech, the connection between the education level of the parent and the child’s vocabulary

Directive speech acts are a natural part of speech which help parents to direct or guide the child’s activities as well as to teach them. The aim of this article is to describe 1) the level of directness-indirectness used in spontaneous child-directed speech, 2) whether and how the frequency and type (i.e. the cognitive complexity) of directive speech acts are related to the parent’s education level and 3) whether directness is a hindering factor for the child’s vocabulary. The data used in the research includes 9 hours of spontaneous speech recordings. The speech of a total of six families have been analysed: three families where the mother has higher education and three with mothers who have secondary education.
The number of child-directed directive speech acts varied: in 1.5 hours of dialogue, from 46 to 130 speech acts were found. Mothers with higher education produced, on average, half as many directive utterances as mothers with secondary education. It was characteristic for parents with higher education to use indirect commands in their speech. However, the portion of indirect commands that mothers with higher education used varied greatly, from 22 to 72 per cent. The distribution of direct and indirect commands was more equal among families with secondary education (the portion of indirect commands ranged from 30.8 to 43.5 per cent). Parents with higher education also showed a greater variety in the types of directive speech acts. Thus, the occurrence of speech acts such as encouragements, proposals and questions, as well as recommendations could be noted.
It is characteristic for mothers with secondary education to frequently use commands and prohibitions: children whose parents only have secondary education will always hear more child-directed prohibitions (Don’t do it!) than the children whose parents also have a higher education. It is also characteristic for mothers with secondary education to use more directive speech acts referring to cultural norms (e.g. The judge was supposed to be quiet).
The results of the study indicate that directness is connected on an individual level with children’s vocabulary – the more directive speech acts the parent produced, the smaller the child’s vocabulary was. There was, however, no direct connection between the frequency and variance in the type of directive speech acts and the variety of the child’s vocabulary.



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