|Abstract: ||1. Introduction
For children to be competent language users and use appropriate language in interaction, it is inevitable that they develop knowledge of linguistic politeness and become a socialized member of the society. In Mandarin Chinese, one aspect of linguistic politeness is the proper use of social deixis, such as address terms or other honorific titles, in addition to the use of appropriate syntactic redress (Brown & Levinson, 1987, Ervin-Tripp, Guo, Lampert, 1990; Pan, 2011). According to Ervin-Tripp et al. (1990), social deixis refers to linguistic devices that ‘allude to an existing relationship or status (p. 314).’ Following this definition, when a Mandarin-speaking child uses mama ‘mother’ to address his/her mother, such an address term is thus considered an example of social deixis. Other examples include some lexical devices, such as qing ‘please’, bang ‘to help’, and mafan ‘please’. Therefore, it is essential that Mandarin-speaking children develop the appropriate uses of social deixis so as to perform good linguistic politeness in interaction.
To examine children’s development and awareness in this respect, spontaneous conversationns between two children and their mothers were collected longitudinally from the age of two to the age of three. Following Ervin-Tripp et al.’s study, conversations observed at three time points were investigated for social deixis: Time 1 (from 2;0 to 2;1), Time 2 (from 2;6 to 2;7), and Time 3 (3;0), in order to find some potential developmental trend in this respect. These conversations were transcribed and coded in CHAT format by two trained research assistants (MacWhinney, 2000). In totally, 237 cases of requests were found in the sampled data. The agreement between the two coders is about 84% on the Cohen’s kappa scale.
It is found that the children seldom use social deixis when making requests to their mothers in family settings, as shown in Table 1 below. Despite the rarity of their uses of social deixis, an in-depth analysis reveals that children appear to utilize social deixis strategically. When the children are at a lower status, as a less powerful person in interaction, they may mitigate their requests by using a social deixis, including address terms, generally mama ‘mother’ or baba ‘father’, and switch of person, for example, using the first person plural pronoun women ‘we’, instead of the second person singular pronoun ni ‘you’, to refer to the addressee. In addition, these mitigated requests seem to occur generally when the ongoing interaction may get interrupted because of the requests, for example, when the children desire to switch topics or to change the ongoing activity. Moreover, the children seem to use address terms at an earlier age and then they develop the use of switch of person to mitigate their requests at a later age. All in all, the few occurrences of social deixis may mean that in parent-child conversations in the family setting, the deference to politeness may be limitedly required (Pan, 2011). Despite the limited requirement, children may nonetheless develop the ability to appropriately and strategically use social deixis in interaction. It is likely that these strategic uses of social deixis may to some extent disclose children’s early awareness of linguistic politeness.