Learning Tip: What Is a Speech Act?
What are “speech acts” and what do young children understand about them? Speech acts help speakers accomplish things in the world. These include requests and demands from children (“More milk?” “No night-night!”), as well as adults (“Shhh”).
Interestingly enough, parents are seldom precise in their requests, but children often understand them anyway. When parents state “It’s too loud in here,” what they’re really saying is that they’d like the children to be quieter. Imprecise statements are common: “It’s raining cats and dogs” (a common idiom) or “I’m starving” (meaning “I want food”). Helping children to understand requests and follow directions is important.
Imprecise questions such as “Can you put your shoes on?” when you in reality just want her to put them on (that is, you are not asking whether she can or can’t) may cause confusion. Try to be more precise (“Please put your shoes on”) in order to get your meaning across.
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