The Development of Sociolinguistic Competence in Children

Alicia Wassink – University of Washington
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

See Course Description

This course introduces students to sociolinguistic research exploring a related set of issues at the intersection of child language acquisition research and research into sociolinguistic variation:

What is the timing of the emergence of sociolinguistic variation in children?  In particular:

How does the timing of the production of variation relate to other universal milestones of language development? When do children begin to show perceptual awareness of variation in the linguistic forms produced by others? What do we “know” about the types of social categories children conceptualize and employ in their social lives?

We begin with Dell Hymes’ notion of communicative competence, establishing a basis for understanding the abilities comprising sociolinguistic competence (systemic potential, appropriateness, occurrence, feasibility).  From there, we explore classic linguistic literature regarding milestones of child language acquisition.  We then examine key research focused upon the emergence of variability in children: 1) the history of language variation studies targeting children and preadolescent children, 2) systematic variability in childrens’ output (production), 3) variability in input to children, 4) evidence for language change in second dialect acquisition. We will look at one particular family of models, exemplar models, that seem promising for modeling of the mapping of linguistic form to social meaning in the mind because they can accommodate the types of findings described in the literature we have explored.  We will consider in particular, how and whether metalinguistic commentary from children (their “talk about talk”) might provide insights into the social categories they perceive, and the evolution of linkages between these categories and linguistic forms over time in the exemplar space.

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