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Book NOTICE

 

Garnica, Olga K., & King, Martha L. (eds.), Language, Children, and Society: The Effect of Social Factors on Children Learning to Communicate. Pergamon, 1979. xvii + 292 pp. $52.00

 

The more modest, yet important, topic proposed in the editors’ introduction is “how children learn and use language to communicate in … educational contexts—both formal and informal.” Specialists in this field will find several useful research reports, some with data, some with only coding schemes and methodological signposts (“Short Cut,” “Dead End,” “Scenic Route,”etc.). However, the majority of the chapters are nothing more than “a personal meditation or spring cleaning exercise,” as one contributor unpromisingly puts it. Readers’ interest will be sustained only so long as their own research problems overlap one of the authors’: no new interests are likely to be kindled. For this reader, the most useful chapter was by Judith Green and Cynthia Wallat, desribing their method of analyzing free-flowing conversations so as to isolate instructional exchanges. They are concerned with classroom instruction, but the ethod could be adapted to any sort of videotaped verbal interactions. It is worth noting how many investigators have turned to P-models, models of language processes in real-time, now that language is understood as interpersonal communication, in place of the competence or C-models that dominated the literature when language and its development were conceived as mattes of syntax and semantics. The chapter by Deborah Keller-Cohen and Cheryl Gracey contains some insightful observations of how children lern a particular move in discurse: “functional negation of the other person’s explicit or implicit propositions. Barbara Bokus and Grace Shugar of the Universityof Warsaw report a careful study of discourse chains, asking what objects a child will refer to in different situations. Their use of microanalysis with transcripts from structured situations (experimentally varying the configuration of speaker, listener, and a picture), which is impressive, may be derived as much from Soviet pedagogical psychology (e.g., Zaporozhetz and colleagues) as it is from the Western sociolinguists whom the authors prefer to cite. Taken as a whole, the papers fall far short of being a valuable book. The contributors include hardly any of the researchers who have been doing seminal work in this field or even the theorists who have been speculating about it. Not that the contributors are by any means duffers in the field, but the number of references they make to the work of Sacks, Schegloff, Cazden, Halliday, Garvey, Cook-Gumperz, Goffman, Labov, and at least 50 others whom we associate with significant publications on this topic makes one feel that no book could serve as an integrating event or even a catalyst without including a few of those authors. (The sole exception is Dell Hymes, but his introductory chapter is more of a “call for change” in the politics of educational linguistics than a substantive ontribution to the topic.) Finally, the book is cheaply produced—from camera-ready transcripts—for the laudable avowed purpose of “economy and speed of production.” In principle, this is the direction in which academic publishing ought to move, especially with computer-stored rather than conventionally typed manuscripts. However, this book came out 3 years after the conference was held, and at $52 not even university libraries should purchase it. Get hold of the table of contents and write to the authors whose titles look promising, asking for their more recent articles. –K. Kaye

 

[reviewed in Child Development Abstracts and Bibliography, 1982, Vol. 56 No. 1, pp. 100-101]