Developing a communicative mind : a longitudinal study of the development of communicative competence in Japanese children aged from 13-24 months
There are cultural variations in how young children learn to communicate with others. The development of Japanese children provides evidence of cultural variations and universal aspects in the way young communicative minds develop. Children's communicative competence during their second year was investigated in terms of the expression of communicative intents and joint attentional skills during dyadic interaction with caregivers. Ten children and their mothers interacting in two contexts were observed and video-recorded at monthly intervals. Systematic coding systems identified and coded communicative acts and joint attentional engagements. The analyses were based on the type of communicative acts and their frequencies as well as the total time spent in joint attentional episodes. With the increasing interpretability of children's speech, their communicative repertoire increased, albeit with individual variability in their developmental courses. The common developmental feature was an increase in the repertoire of linguistic expressions in the main communicative exchanges: directing attention, negotiation and discussion. There was also an expansion of conversational topics to non-present referents. Culturally specific communicative behaviours were found in the use of meta-conversational repertoires, both in children and mothers. There was a linear trend for increased time spent in joint attentional episodes. Early joint attentional episodes were dominated by routine play and/or gesture use, both of which involved an element of establishing interactional formats within the dyads. The mothers facilitated the interactions using a wide variety of communicative acts in the discussion domain. They also supported joint attentional engagement. Their interaction with the pre-verbal child showed a significant impact on the child's communicative repertoire in the later stages. Developmental routes to mastery of communication reflect cultural variations in the way people interact. Despite cultural variations, the fundamental process of language learning is that children's experience of early communicative exchanges leads to their accomplishment of "meeting of minds" (Bruner, 1995).