Here’s how intonation, facial expression help toddlers detect speaker’s politeness
As children in their earlier stages of life express themselves through their facial expressions and gestures, they tend to understand the politeness of a speaker in the same way, suggests a study. Gesture and prosody play an important role in the development of children’s communication skills. Studies have traditionally focused rather on the role played by these elements in the early acquisition of lexical and morphosyntactic elements and less at older ages when children use prosody and gesture to express pragmatic meanings such as politeness.
The study was published in the recent edition of the journal - Communication Research.
“Despite evidence that children are sensitive to facial gestures and prosody for detecting emotions until now there was conflicting evidence as to whether preschool children use these cues to deduce speakers’ politeness”, said the pioneer researcher Pilar Prieto.
A new study of which Iris Hubscher (University of Zurich, Switzerland, and UPF) is the first author and principal investigator, together with laura Wagner, co-author, and researcher at Ohio University (USA).
In this study, the researchers set out to investigate whether preschool children inferred a speaker’s effective stance and degree of politeness taking into account the role of prosodic cues and facial expressions. This is the first study to show that three-year-olds or toddlers are sensitive to the meaning of politeness that is conveyed through intonation and facial cues.
For the study, they designed an experiment in which children listened to a request addressed to them, (either followed or not by please) delivered politely and impolitely. Thirty-six English-speaking children aged three years participated in this experiment to find out if children deduced a speaker’s politeness through intonation and/or facial gestures and in different formats, both audio mode and visually and in both modes simultaneously.
The results of the study show that children of age three can be recognized politeness through such prosodic cues as intonation, visual cues such as facial expressions, and the two together, and most importantly, unlike previous studies, the study shows that both intonation and facial expression are equally strong signals to make children understand the polite stance of a speaker.
This has implications for parents, carers and preschool teachers because it suggests gaining awareness of children’s social and pragmatic behavior, which often only focuses on verbal content”, highlights Hubscher, the principal investigator of the study. Furthermore, Pilar Prieto also says that the study highlights the importance of sensitizing children to the great possible variety of expressions of politeness and not only to verbal contents such as the use of ‘please’.
The researchers point out that in the future it would be interesting to compare English-speaking American children with children who speak other languages, to see if these results are comparable or if there are intercultural differences in children’s development in the understanding of politeness, as well as studying the development of politeness in broader age brackets.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed with a few modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)