‘Pass us it…I need it’: a sociopragmatic account of children’s directives in two school-based communities of practice

Snell, Julia

University of Leeds, United Kingdom


Children endeavour to make sense of the verbal practices appropriate to each of the communities they belong to. This involves learning what is expected of them by adults and by other children. In learning and then adopting these practices, children participate in the social processes that define and redefine the identity of the community. This paper presents an analysis of how 10-year-old children in Teesside, in the north-east of England, formulate directives. The analysis is based on a corpus of radio-microphone recordings collected during fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in two primary schools. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this study explores the strategies that are available to these children for giving orders or requests, and then investigates how the choices the children make relate to their place in the social organisation of the school and the wider community.

The two schools which form the basis of this study are differentiated in terms of the socio-economic profile of the areas they serve and, by implication, the social background and experiences of the students. The schools therefore represent quite different communities of practice (Eckert 2000), each a product of how the school, its staff and its students have adapted to the social situation they find themselves in. While certain strategies are shared by children in both communities of practice, others, like the use of us for the objective singular in imperatives such as ‘give us it’, are dominant in just one, in this case, the school serving a socially deprived area. While quantitative analysis delineates the pool of linguistic resources available for formulating directives in each community of practice, a closer qualitative analysis of the way such directives function within the children’s interactions allows for an interpretation of the pragmatic motivations behind the choices that speakers make. The specific situation, the goals of the interaction, and the social relationships between interlocutors, as well as the speaker’s own social trajectory, influence the choice of directive, and ethnographic information is often crucial to an understanding of how all of these factors work together.

Session: Paper session
Interaction 1
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 05