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The language of ambiguity
He, Agnes Weiyun
Article from Journal - ilmiah internasional
Discourse Studies (Full Text) vol. 3 no. 1 (Feb. 2001)
language and socialization
This article explores communicative processes in Chinese involving Chinese American children in order to explain the notion of preference for ambiguity, a characteristic often invoked when describing the Chinese as a group. It also speculates on the impact this notion has on children’s socialization. Preference for ambiguity can be defined as making ambiguous something that is otherwise clear – communicating ambiguously or conveying something that is ambiguous – communicating ambiguity. Treating ambiguity as an interaction-centered and activity-bound phenomenon rather than a purely semantic or logical problem, this article locates ambiguity in the intersubjectivity co-constructed by all participants and explores its role in the construction of cultural, situational and interpersonal contexts. It shows that ambiguity is shaped not only by lexico-grammar but also by discourse structure. This article draws data from a total of 30 hours of audio/video recorded classroom interactions involving 4 teachers and about 35 students (age 4.5 to 9 years) in two Chinese Heritage Language Schools in the USA as well as from observations and interviews. In the classroom context, children are compelled to make speculations and draw inferences regarding their interlocutors’ references, intentions, dispositions and goals. They do so without confronting their interlocutors or holding their interlocutors accountable. In contrast, teachers freely and vocally (re-)formulate, clarify, question and interpret children’s utterances in an effort to make the children’s stances unequivocal. This study suggests that the communicative patterns observed with respect to ambiguity may play an important part in the socialization of cultural knowledge and cognitive styles.
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