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Children are socialized to use language So language is not just one dimension of the socialization process


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Language socialization paradigm

  • Insists that in becoming competent members of their social group, children are socialized through language

  • Children are socialized to use language

  • So language is not just one dimension of the socialization process

  • It is the most central and crucial dimension of that process

Language socialization paradigm began in 1980s

The language socialization paradigm claims that:

Any study of socialization that does not document the role of language … in the acquisition of cultural practices … is incomplete and fundamentally flawed.

3 criteria of language socialization paradigm





  • Longitudinal in perspective




  • Should demonstrate acquisition (or not) of particular linguistic and cultural practices over time and across contexts.


Past studies assumed that cultural competence was complete after adolescence




  • Language studies emphasize the socializing nature of all human interaction.

In communication performances, people are “constantly informing and conforming each other to whatever it is that has to happen next”




Multiple agencies are present and should be accounted for in any social interaction




Mother child interactions

  • It is not only the child who is being socialized

  • The child, through her/his actions and verbalizations, is also actively socializing the mother as a mother

Co-workers socialize each other as co-workers

Lovers socialize each other as lovers



Setting up the background for studies that demonstrate how different kinds of culturally intelligible subjectivities come into being.

Affective stance

  • Affect – experience of feeling an emotion

  • Stance – expressing feeling and emotion

The ability to display culturally intelligent affective stances is crucial to being a recognizable subject in any social group.” (Hymes 1974)

Cultural conventions for displaying, invoking, and interpreting affect

  • Laughing, crying, saying you’re sorry … these are examples of

“doing an emotion” (affect stance)

Affective stances are attributed to infants early on (interpretations of baby’s behaviors as indicating emotions etc. These interpretations are highly cultural.)

This attribution influences how caretakers respond and react to infants

… which influences how children come to act and speak






Gapun, Papua New Guinea
Linguistic anthropologist Don Kulick

  • Assume affective stance of infant displays dissatisfaction and anger

  • Assume infants are naturally stubborn, willful, big headed


  • “A child cooing softly in its mother’s lap is likely to be shaken suddenly and asked ‘Ai! What are you mad about!’




  • The first words attributed to a baby are oki, mnda and ayata – words which mean ‘I’m leaving’, ‘I’m sick of this’ and ‘Stop it’, respectively.



  • Imputed aggression in babies is matched by those tending them.

  • Common face play with babies involves the caregiver biting lower lip, widening eyes, thrusting out chin sharply, raising heal of hand in threatening manner, swinging it within inches of the child’s face and then pulling it back.




  • Then the caregiver laughs at the baby and nuzzles her/him.




  • Anger is a structuring principle of social life in the village.




  • Women are held to be selfish and always ready to vent anger – like children.




  • Men are expected to suppress their anger for the greater social good.




  • Making someone angry can cause the one who is angered, ancestors, and/or supernatural to cause sickness and death for the one who caused anger.


Kaluli, Papua New Guinea

  • Affect: Adults assume that infants are ‘soft’ or helpless, vulnerable, and without understanding.

  • The first sounds produced by children that are recognized by adults as Kaluli words are no: and bo, ‘mother’ and ‘breast’.

  • “Attests to a social view of language expressing the child’s primary relationship and the giving of food that is central to its constitution.”


  • Kaluli say that children know how to beg and whine to get what they want, but they must be taught to use language.




  • Kaluli use no baby talk or simplified speech when communicating with their infants. Instead, they socialize young children by telling them precisely what to say and how to say it.


Developing hardness


  • Children need to acquire assertive demeanors, which they lack







  • They model what they want the child to say and how it should be said.




  • They may talk for the child when she/he is an infant – facing the child outward and moving his/her arms etc.




  • The idea is that in the Kaluli “egalitarian” economic situation …

  • Children must learn to get what they need and want in appropriate ways …

  • To be assertive at the right times …


Back to the Gapun


  • Ahearn (56 -59) describes Kulick’s more recent findings about the Gapun. There is a shift from speaking Taiap to Tok Pisin (a creole).




  • What did he find is happening to the language and why?

  • How do language changes relate to socialization changes?




  • Ahearn talks about some typical patterns of English speaking socialization.




  • What are the ‘affect’ habits of many parents in English speaking societies?




  • Creole: language of mixed origin: a language that has evolved from the mixture of two or more languages and has become the first language of a group

A little history


  • “The Tok Pisin language is a result of Pacific Islanders intermixing, when people speaking numerous different languages were sent to work on plantations in Queensland and various islands (see South Sea Islander and Blackbirding). The labourers began to develop a pidgin, drawing vocabulary primarily from English, but also from German, Malay, Portuguese and their own Austronesian languages (perhaps especially Kuanua, that of the Tolai people of East New Britain).

  • This English-based pidgin evolved into Tok Pisin in German New Guinea (where the German-based creole Unserdeutsch was also spoken). It became a widely used lingua franca – and language of interaction between rulers and ruled, and among the ruled themselves who did not share a common vernacular; the closely related Bislama in Vanuatu and Pijin in the Solomon Islands developed in parallel. The flourishing of the mainly English-based Tok Pisin in German New Guinea (despite the language of the metropolitan power being German) is to be contrasted with Hiri Motu, the lingua franca of Papua, which was derived not from English but from Motu, the vernacular of the indigenous people of the Port Moresby area.”









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