Language for learning in early childhood

This is the title of a paper by Claire Painter, published in Language, Knowledge and Pedagogy, ed. Christie and Martin, 2007, Continuum.

The author tape-recorded interactions between herself and her two children, one up to the age of thirty months, the other from thirty months to five years. These recordings were transcribed and studied to throw light on how very young children learn language. The work is modeled on Halliday’s recording and analyzing of his own son’s language development*.

Painter is less concerned than Halliday to fit the child-parent utterances into his three-fold model of language (ideational, interpersonal, textual). Her work is more exploratory but she elicits some persuasive categories of the child-parent interactions:1. explicit pedagogy – for instance, when to apologise (“Say sorry to Kitty” for treading on her foot.)

2. implicit pedagogy – for example, that it is possible to use language to convey an experience to someone who was not present (“Tell Daddy what we did today.”)

3. not obvious pedagogy – for example, when it is appropriate to eat certain foods (“We don’t eat lamb chops at 11 o’clock in the morning.”)

4. playful interactions – misnaming pictures of animals (“It’s a bear.” “No, it’s not. It’s a giraffe.”)

Something that occurred to me while reading it is that the paper is also a telling account of how “intelligence” is created and extended.

The paper is an unusually warm-hearted read, as the transcribed interactions depend on the love between parent and child. Such elements are not common in linguistics papers, though painter is clear that it is the interactivity which is primary for both participants in the dialogue.

*For example, HALLIDAY, M.A.K., 1975 Learning how to mean, Arnold

HALLIDAY, M.A.K. Towards a Language-Based Theory of Learning, in Linguistics and Education 5, 1993


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