Expressing requests in Cantonese by young children

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Conference Proceeding

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Request strategies, Child Cantonese, Pragmatic development


Use of language appropriately is one of the major functions in communication. It takes time for children to develop this critical ability. Recent research on the pragmatic and discourse abilities of children in different languages and ethnic groups has grown rapidly. A number of studies ( Berman & Slobin 1994; Ninio &Snow 1996; Blum-Kulka & Snow 2002) provide important information on narrative and pragmatic development in children. However, research on the pragmatic development of Cantonesespeaking children is scarce. Request is one of the most commonly found conversational acts in children’s daily life and it forms an important domain in children’s communicative competence. In making a request, the child needs to know the grammatical form and its function, and uses it in the appropriate context. In this study, we reported an investigation of the use of request strategies by young children in Hong Kong. A total of 40 (age 3, and 5) pre-school Cantonese-speaking children (20 per group, half boys and half girls) were recruited from local kindergartens. All children selected were normally developing and were born in Hong Kong with parents speaking Cantonese at home. Following the suggestion of using puppets in role-play (Andersen 2000; Ervin-Tripp 2000), we asked the children to help the puppet to make requests to other puppets in different scenarios with contextual variation in (i) age of addressee, (ii) social status of the addressee, and (iii) setting. Adopting the coding and analysis by Blum-Kulka and her associates in the Cross Cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP), our study showed that these factors have different effects on the use of strategies by children. Major findings of the study showed that (a) there is a development trend in the use of request strategies in Head Act or preschool children; younger children used more direct than indirect strategies; (b) Girls produced requests with more external modifications of the Head Act than boys. In our presentation, we will discuss our findings in relation to previous work on the request development in the literature.

Source Publication

The 14th International Pragmatics Conference, 2015 Jul 26-31, Antwerp, Belgium

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