EFFECTS OF CHILD'S SEX AND ORDINAL POSITION ON MOTHER-CHILD DIALOGUE
DOLINS, MERELYN T.
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There has been controversy among researchers as to the contribution of environmental or innate factors in the development of children's language. Using semantic or syntactic measures, some researchers have suggested that mothers' input (representing environmental influences) affects the child's rate and complexity of language use. In contrast, other investigators have concluded that adults' linguistic input merely supplies exemplars for the child's emerging abilities to express structure or meaning. It was suggested that this issue might be clarified if measures were used which were sensitive to differences in children's language functioning.;Therefore, this study evaluated children's language functioning as an interactive process within mother-child dialogue. Additionally, current research has shown that the conceptual content of exchanges is most responsive to variations in mothers' input. Thus the primary measure chosen for this study was a coding system designed by Blank and Franklin (in press) which permitted analyses of both interpersonal aspects of dialogue and complexity of information exchanged.;In order to investigate the issue of innate vs. environmental effects on language development, subjects were chosen whose characteristics have been shown to have differential effects due to environmental or genetic factors, i.e., birth order and gender. Differences in language of ordinal groups were assumed would represent environmental effects, while differences in language of sex groups would represent both genetic and environmental effects.;Forty mothers and their three-year-old children were audiotaped in their homes while engaged in two tasks, and their conversations transcribed and analyzed. The results show that mothers used different patterns of complexity to the two ordinal groups. Although the actual demands which mothers made upon each birth order group did not differ in overall conceptual complexity, mothers appeared to expect that first born children would comprehend more highly complex material than would second born. Children of different ordinal groups used different conversational styles and assumed different roles in dialogue. Therefore, children of different ordinal positions were affected by the different patterns of cognitive-linguistic demands in dialogue with their mothers.;Sex of children had differential effects on mother-child dialogue as well. Mothers used relatively more complex exchanges with boys than with girls. However, these differences occurred only where there were responses required to mothers' exchanges. Thus there were greater demands for the boys to respond to higher levels of complex information than for girls. In comparison to boys, girls responded more accurately to the most complex levels of information when mothers provided more structured dialogue. Therefore, children's ability to deal with complex concepts within natural dialogue is not inherently sex dependent.;Moreover, boys used higher levels of cognitive-linguistic complexity in their conversations with their mothers than did the girls. However, boys were less adept at sustaining topics across conversational turns than were girls. Therefore, there were differences in patterns of complexity and engagement between mothers and children of different sex groups. It was not clear whether these differences were due to characteristics associated with the sex of children or to mothers' attitudes toward children of different sexes.
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