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Children’s Talk

Children’s Talk

Catherine Garvey

ISBN 9780674116351

Publication date: 01/01/1984

How do children learn the intangible rules of conversation? How do they make talk “work”? Adults usually regard talk as a simple means of conveying information. Catherine Garvey’s examination of children’s talk reveals, however, that much more than this goes on in any conversational exchange.

Talk always takes place in a particular situation or context: the speakers are continuously interpreting what is going on, and they adjust their responses accordingly. To be sure that the message is received, children must learn to engage the attention of the other person, to take turns at talking, and to set up signals for the beginning and end of conversation. They learn to confirm that the intended meaning is understood and to evaluate the acceptability of the message, and they acquire an understanding of the ritual aspects of talk, including marks of courtesy such as “please” and “thank you,” displays of attentiveness, and an awareness of interpersonal status. Children must also learn to say “no,” to use talk to reach a goal, and to interpret the differences in the ways other people talk.

Garvey explains the importance of talk to children’s socialization and development and shows why talk is an integral and revealing part of the child’s life that reflects important changes in thinking and social interaction.


  • There is no other comprehensive discussion of what children have to learn about communication in addition to pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax. There’s not even a comprehensive discussion of the adult system, much less a summary of research on development… The book will be invaluable, and not just for people interested in children… It is rich and very well written.

    —Courtney Cazden


  • Catherine Garvey is Professor of Psychology, University of Maine, Orono.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press
  • Series edited by Barbara Lloyd

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