Monday, May 1, 2017

Sentence Functions and Conversation: The heart of language development


7 Functions of Language expressed at the sentence level by Michael Halliday
Instrumental: I want a banana
Regulatory:  “First I … you need a rake and you have to build over the rake.”
Interactional:  “Do you like cricket too Henry?”
Personal:  “I know that song ‘cause we sang it at Kindergarten.”
Heuristic:  “We could make a water thing to tell how much rain we got.”
Imaginative: “Alice the camel has one hump, one hump, one hump.”
Representational:  “It is raining really heavy and heavy all day.”
From: Michael Halliday’s chapter in Language Development:  A Reader for Teachers edited by Brenda Miller Power and Ruth S. Hubbard, Merrill Prentice Hall, 2002
The chapter begins with a question asked by a teacher of English: “What is language?”, to which Halliday responds: “Why do you want to know?” Halliday’s point is that it matters why you want/need to define language. He takes the perspective of the child learning language: that is, the child’s “Model” of language internalized as a result of his experience. “The child knows what language is because he knows what language does.” [That is, the function(s) of language]. Halliday goes on to write:
“….The determining elements of the young child’s experience are the successful demands on language that he himself has made, the particular needs that have been satisfied by language for him….”
“…We shall try to identify the models of language with which the normal child is endowed by the time he comes to school at the age of 5….”
Halliday then goes on to describe “models” of language function the child brings to school: Instrumental, Regulatory, Interactional, Personal, Heuristic, Imaginative, and Representational. See the chart above for the categories, the functions they are designed to achieve, and examples.
Language Use and Learning
In the same text on Language Development: A Reader for Teachers, Gay Su Pinnell describes “Ways to Look at the Functions” of Children’s Language”* in which she offers examples based on classroom observations, a process for doing those observations, and ways to enhance children’s 7 functional uses of language.
*Taken from Observing the Language Learner” (pp. 57-72), A. Jaggar and M. T. Smith-Burke (Eds., Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 1985
There are many texts and example that address the relationship between oral language and school success, some of which we will refer to as to move to our next level of oral language—discourse. Many of these are from the 1970’s beginning with a seminal work by Cazden and Hymes in 1972 (Functions of Language in the Classroom). The date is mentioned not to suggest that these sources, ideas, and concerns are outdated; but, rather, to suggest that language use and school success is an old and ongoing topic of interest and importance. More recent texts include:
The Functions of Language (at the sentence level): Some examples and excerpts from Halliday.
So, when a child uses a sentence we need to pay attention to its function, not just its form.. Note that these examples are at the sentence level, but they only take on meaning as they function as part of a discourse/conversation….both oral and written.
Instrumental: Language is used as a means of getting things done.
I want… a car, boat, treat…. I want to…go home, find a book…
“Success in this use of language does not in any way depend on the production of well-formed adult sentences; a carefully contextualized yell may have substantially the same effect…”
Regulatory: Language is used to regulate the behavior of others.
You shouldn’t….tear the paper,
go there; use that pencil, take that book..
While this function of language, in the child’s experience, may initially be used by adults, the child learns to use it, too.
Interactional: Language is used to address social interactions—both personal and group interactions.
Let’s work on this together.
We can do this.
You don’t belong here.
Personal: Language is used reflect self, his/her personality, uniqueness
I’m good at math.
I like to play dominoes.
I think school is fun.
Heuristic. Language used to explore one’s environment—language as a means of investigating reality, a way of learning about things.
I have a question?
Do that mean…?
Oh, look, there’s a frog.
Imaginative. Language used to create his/her own “environment” as he/she can image it to be.
Hi, Mr. Pepperoni Pants.
This is a zigo.
The request of the buggy coming right up. Humming…
Once there was a big tree house…
Representational: Language used to communicate about something, for expressing propositions.
Mars is a million miles away.
The zoo has many wild animals.
Molly is sick.
* * * *
More example as we move to the next section on oral language development: The Discourse or Conversation Level.

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