A Pragmatic Interpretation Of Child Language

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

A Pragmatic Interpretation Of Child Language


This thesis titled “A Pragmatic Interpretation of Child Language: A Case Study of
Telegraphic Speech has been carried out to determine the role of context in understanding language use by children or children‟s speech. Pragmatics is the study of speaker context meaning…. It is a component of linguistic study that goes beyond grammatical competence or well formed sentence to find meaning for a particular utterance or discourse exchange. It demonstrates the relationship between what speakers say and what they actually mean and the kind of effects they expect on the minds of the hearers. The motivation for the study emanates from the fact that children‟s utterances are not easily understood, especially when one is not familiar with the child‟s background and speech mannerisms.

To a large extent, one needs to rely on context to effectively comprehend what a child says. The study sought to establish whether or not situations and circumstance of speech could be brought to bear in order to discern meaning in children‟s utterances: whether contextual meaning would be needed to complement semantics. The three media recording technique was employed to elicit utterances from Punpun, the case study child. The utterances were later interpreted pragmatically through the Systemic Functional Grammar‟s primary level of linguistic analysis: grammar and situation. Interpretations were also made using the various approaches through which pragmatic study is undertaken.

The result of the interpretation shows that to a very great extent, context is indispensable, one cannot rely on grammar or literal meaning alone, one has also to make use of inferences, ask questions from those that understand the child better, take a thought, follow the context – both linguistic and non linguistics. All these point to the fact that an understanding of the child‟s general language situation aids in understanding his speech. The implication of this is that attention should be paid to what a child says, no one uses language without reason. Close attention should be paid to children and what they say, they don‟t speak in vacuum.

Even if their speech is not matured as that of adult, yet, it is meaningful and they intend to do one thing or the other through whatever they say: Language is a tool for communication and a child utilizes this tool for various reasons. A child, at any time utilizes his linguistic knowledge to effectively pass across to his hearer, his intentions or desire while expecting the cooperation of the hearer who may need to rely on some background information to attend to him. This study also confirms the fact that children‟s utterances can be subjected to various pragmatic theories such as deixis, conversational analysis, cooperative principles, and so on.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Language is a peculiar gift of nature to man. It is a central and complex phenomenon to all human beings. It stands at the centre of all human endeavours from the onset of human civilization. Language is the means of acquisition of all manner of knowledge and the tool by which morals, ethics and beliefs that govern human lives are passed on to the succeeding generations. It is the medium of thought and expression of human wants, desires, emotions, ideas, both positive and negative. Clark and Clark (1977) see language as a basic ingredient in virtually every social situation.

However, no one is born an adult with full possession of this vehicle of thought and expression. Rather, a man is born an infant who passes through various stages of growth, which significantly impact on his use of language. A child does not also begin to speak automatically when the time comes for him to; he undergoes some stages before and after the onset of meaningful utterances with which he communicates with his environment. As a result of the inevitability of language in human life, parents look forward with great expectation to seeing their children utter the first words.

As a special area of human life, psycholinguistics is the field of language studies that handles the issue of language acquisition. As Berry (1975) puts it, psycholinguistics is the discipline that discusses both psychological and linguistic issues in relation to each other. A central question in psycholinguistics is the issue of child language acquisition which could be perceived as the process by which a human.

Pragmatics is a shift from strict grammatical rules to a situational language use.It is a linguistic theory that studies meaning from the perspectives of language users, communication code and socio-cultural conventions. Hence, Mey (2007:6) asserts that “Pragmatics Studies the use of language in human communication as determined by the conditions of society”.

Child Language on telegraphic speechs are “Comic strips”. They create humour by portraying “observable characters in a society” (Bitner, 2003:306). Child Language on telegraphic speechs serve as a medium through which people are informed, educated and entertained by presenting societal happenings in hillarious manner. They are found in newspapers, magazines and newsletters.

This work is therefore, borne out of a desire to study the workings of pragmatics (including non-verbal language) in selected pocket Child Language on telegraphic speechs from editions of Vanguard so as to discover how utterances used in these Child Language on telegraphic speechs reflect Nigerian socio-political realities.

1.1 Purpose of the Study

This work aims at examining the role of contexts in the interpretation of utterances contained in the selected Child Language on telegraphic speechs. It equally wants to investigate how messages are encoded in and can be decoded from Child Language on telegraphic speechs. The functions and effects of utterances in these Child Language on telegraphic speechs will also be accounted for. Finally, the essay also aims at capturing the essence of world knowledge in the interpretation of utterances.

1.2 Justification

It is no gain-saying that non-linguistic features such as objects, persons and things are very pivotal in generating meaning from linguisticitems. In this regard, Child Language on telegraphic speechs exhibit non-linguistic features which pragmatics as a theory takes care of. So, it is believed that this work will be of great benefit to students of English and literature, researchers and linguists that are interested in pragmatics.

1.3 Scope and Limitation

Pragmatics is a theory that contains a number of theories. Thus, this project will be restricted to pragmatic theories such as ‘speech acts,’ ‘implicature,’ ‘intention and inference’ and ‘context’ as well as pragmatic elements such as ‘presupposition,’ ‘ world knowledge,’ ‘ deixis,’ ‘ inference’ and ‘non-verbal language.’ Sixteen ‘pocket Child Language on telegraphic speechs’ will be selected from Vanguard’s editions as our data.

1.4 Research Methodology

This essay will use sixteen “pocket Child Language on telegraphic speechs” (both single panel and panel Child Language on telegraphic speechs) in a Nigerian newspaper- Vanguard published between June and September 2010. Stratified systematic sampling technique is adopted to select the samples because of inconsistency in the pocket Child Language on telegraphic speechs publications. For instance, some editions of the newspaper do not contain pocket Child Language on telegraphic speechs while some (editions) repeat previous “Panels.” As a result of these, four pocket cartons are sourced from each month’s editions of Vanguard. These editions are: vol. 25: No. 61123, vol. 25: No. 61129, vol. 25: No.61130, Vol. 25 No.61135 (June), Vol. 25: No. 61146, Vol. 25: No. 61150, Vol. 25: No. 61158, Vol. 25: No. 61162 (July), Vol. 25: No. 61167, Vol. 25: No. 61174, Vol. 25: No. 61175, Vol. 25: No. 61182, (August), Vol. 25: No. 61189, Vol. 25: No. 61196, Vol. 25:No. 61194, Vol. 25:No. 61204 (September).

The data will be analysed using pragmatic approach. The elements to be explored are: locution, illocution, and perlocution (speech acts), contexts, implicature, presupposition, inference, world knowledge and deixis. Illocutions and perlocutions will be presented in tabular form. Also, non-verbal language as an element will be subsumed under physical context (a sub-element) because the latter houses the features of the former.

1.5 Nigerian Newspaper

A Nigerian newspaper covers local issues politics, business, major events, celebrations and life styles of Nigerians. According to Aina (2002: 244-248) “over one hundred national and local newspaper operate in Nigeria:. While some of them are owned by the State government, some are owned by private bodies.

Aliagan (2006:13-14) discloses that the first printing press came into existence in Nigeria in 1846 through Presbyterian mission. He further notes that “Iwe Iroyin fun Awon Ara Egba ati Yoruba” was the first newspaper in the country and was founded in 1859.This was followed by Robert Campbell’s newspapers in 1863 in Lagos colony. Other newspapers of colonial period are “The Daily Times” (Founded in 1926) “African Messenger” (Founded in 1921), “Lagos Daily News (Founded in 1925) e.t.c.

Newspaper publishing bloomed after independence as both the government and private companies invested more in it. Some of the post colonial newspapers are “The Nation” “The Punch” “Vanguard” “The Guardian” etc.

1.6 Summary

This chapter has given a general introduction to the topic of this essay. The purpose and significance of the work were also discussed followed by its scope and limitation. Method of data collection and analysis were also disclosed and brief notes were given on Nigerian newspapers and Nigerian Vanguard. In the next chapter, we shall review the relevant literature to this topic.

Chapter Four

Summary, Summary of Findings and Conclusion.

4.0 Summary

In the first chapter, a general introduction to this work was given followed by the purpose and significance of the study respectively. The limits and limitations of the research were also stated and the methods to be adopted in the analysis were described. In chapter two, We tried to do a review of pragmatics- its general scope, some of its theories and elements as well as a review of Child Language on telegraphic speech including its (brief) history, types, forms, functions and its status in African society. Chapter three, focused on a pragmatic analysis of the selected Child Language on telegraphic speechs and was concluded with a discussion of the data analysed. The rest of this chapter (Chapter four) will centre on the findings and conclusion.

4.1 Summary of Findings

Below are the findings that emerged from the research.

It was discovered from the analysis that the utterances used in Child Language on telegraphic speechs are mainly assertives and directives. For instance, in datum 2, utterance A and B we have ‘informing,’ ‘claiming’ and ‘condemming’ (assertives) and in datum 5, utterance A and B we have ‘ordering’ (directive). This led us to conclude thatChild Language on telegraphic speechs usually portray the state of affairs in a particular society. The assertives found in these Child Language on telegraphic speechs convey for instance deplorable situation in Nigeria in which almost every politician is corrupt as shown in datum 1 and 4.

We also found that an utterance can perform more than one action. This is manifested in many ways in the analysis including datum7 utterance B, that has three-illocutions – ‘informing’, ‘advising’ and ‘warning’. These instances indicate that several messages are passed across in an utterance. Thus, Child Language on telegraphic speechs are very didactic in nature.

Furthermore, the analysis revealed that an utterance ( a locution) can have more than one effect and that the effects can vary with regard to the set of its addresses(i.e, the masses and the politicians or government officials). For example, datum 12, utterance C has two effects (perlocutions); it creates humor and also alerts Jonathan.
Through an examination of the physical context, we discovered that the nature of a Child Language on telegraphic speechand its non-verbal features determinethe interpretation of its utterance or utterances. For instance, the “cock ‘N’ Bull” Child Language on telegraphic speech in datum 6 helps us to know that the speakers did not believe that Jega’s efforts to curb electoral malpractice will be successful/fruitful. Hence it is a cock and bull story. (i.e, a story that has no iota of truth in it).

Moreover, the inner state of mind of the Child Language on telegraphic speechist was revealed through the psychological context. This was demonstrated by boldening some words in order to express anger, criticism, mockery or sympathy. For example, the words ‘kidnappers’ and ‘fifty’ in datum 16 are made prominent to express anger at the way some people engage in child abuse.

Socio-cultural context disclosed that every utterance or discourse is based on a particular socio-cultural reality. That is, what is on ground in the society. One of the instances of this is datum 15 where it was noted that Nigeria operates a democratic system of government which allows any eligible citizens to vote and be voted for.

Through world knowledge and presupposition, we realized that there must be a fore-knowledge between a speaker and a hearer about the subject on which an utterance or discourse is based and that speakers rely on hearers’ background knowledge in any discourse so that assumptions are made. For instance, there is a general knowledge that “IBB is clever than Jonathan(datum eleven) .” Similarly, it is assumed, for instance, in datum 9 that Nigerians know who a governor is.

In addition, it was found out by means of implicature, that the meaning of utterances used in Child Language on telegraphic speechs goes beyond their literal sense. For example, it is not literally stated in datum three that the speakers “are not satisfied with NEPA’s service and that they are craving for a positive change”.

Through inference we found that hearer-meaning is very possible in every utterance. This is demonstrated in several occasions in the analysis. For instance, there is a deduction in datum 14 that those who rig elections update their strategies to outdo Jega’s efforts.

Finally, deictics, especially person deitics are used by the writers to avoid mentioning a particular personality or to avoid personalizing issues. ‘They’ in datum 12 and ‘any’ and ‘one’ in datum 10 are instances of this fact.

4.2 Conclusion

There is no doubt that Child Language on telegraphic speechs have more to offer than entertaining the readers. Hence, Child Language on telegraphic speechs are meant to instigate reflection on what is going on in a society. This study perceives pragmatics as a linguistic approach that captures the structure and the use of language in Child Language on telegraphic speechs as they (structure and language use) depict and satirize members of the society; and socio-political issues in the country are examined and commented on. Generally, the knowledge of the event that leads to a Child Language on telegraphic speech and the setting of a particular Child Language on telegraphic speech are very crucial in understanding what its utterance or utterances mean.

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