About CELFFaculty, Fellows and StaffCalendar of EventsResearch & Working PapersWork-Family ResourcesHome

Parent and Child Construction of Directives as a Window into Family Dynamics: A Case Study

Jennifer Sison Fabian


Marjorie Harness Goodwin

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 38


Throughout the course of daily interactions within the family sphere, both children and parents inevitably encounter directives, either through giving directives themselves, receiving them, or hearing them said to other family members. Analysis of the directives and associated phenomena observed in these interactions, with directives defined here to be “utterance[s] designed to get someone to do something,” (Austin 1962; Goodwin 2003) can be useful for the study of family dynamics. They illustrate how issues of power and esteem are handled through language in the family (Ervin-Tripp, O’Connor, and Rosenberg 1984) This paper will examine sociolinguistic phenomena such as non-directive repetition and the negotiative and inclusive features of directives to understand how children construct and learn to use directives, including how they may be socialized into interpreting their affiliated meanings. Certain features of directives given by parents, such as the use of minimizing agents (features which dilute the power of a directive), will also be examined for their effects on children’s compliance of their directives. In addition, this paper will look at levels of parental involvement in interactions with the children, to understand how the task of giving directives is assigned between parents, and its possible implications on family dynamics. We hypothesize that these sociolinguistic phenomena (non-directive repetition, and the negotiative and inclusive features of directives) can be both children’s responses to directives, and function as strategies they actively employ to manipulate or counter directives. We hypothesize that asymmetric parental involvement can have negative consequences on family dynamics, that the use of minimizing agents can decrease compliance to directives, and that all of these features of talk, when looked at how they combine with and construct directive use, reflect and give insight into the nature of the social relations between family members.

Home | About Us | Faculty, Fellows & Staff | Calendar of Events
Research & Working Papers | Work-Family Resources