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Conference Papers Year : 2013

How do children express refusal and rejection? A multimodal and corpus-based approach


Before they acquire and develop language, children first refuse and reject with their bodies. The development of the various semiotic means to express refusal and rejection in longitudinal data of adult-child conversation provides a relevant domain for combining multimodal and multi-level analyses. Rejection and refusal are negative functions which appear very early in children's productions (Bloom, 1970; Choi, 1988). First productions of refusal and rejection in children's development are usually considered unconscious (Spitz, 1957) and therefore mainly conveyed by actions and motions of avoidance (Clark, 1978), but as children grow older they start using symbolic means to express negation (Guidetti, 2005). Spitz shows that this transition starts at around fifteen months, when children stop using actions or physiological refusals - such as pushing an object away or avoiding food with their bodies - and replace them with symbolic gestures like head-shakes through a process of ritualisation of spontaneous actions (Kendon, 2002). However, tracing the transitions from action to gesture and then from gesture to verbal production is quite complex since rejection and refusal can be signalled nonverbally (Horn, 2001). Therefore, I analysed all the actions, gestures, vocalisations and verbal productions of one French-speaking and one English-speaking monolingual children filmed for one hour a month between ten months and four years old, along with those of their adult interlocutors. A specific multimodal coding system was developed combining the use of Excel, CLAN and ELAN with video data and transcriptions to analyse the children's refusals and rejections according to context in dialogue. Results show that the two children first use actions to express refusals and rejections but not all of them replace this modality with gestures during their second year and even when their speech has become complex, they continue using actions alone and in combination with speech. When refusals and rejections are verbalised, their expression often takes the form of a no or non and does not require a complex syntactic realisation. This study addresses the status given to actions, as well as how they are later coded syntactically in child and adult speech. It is especially notable that the modality of action -- typically replaced over the course of development by the more symbolic modalities of gesture and language -- continues to be used for expressing refusal and rejection even into adulthood. This continuity suggests that these negative functions may be embodied to a greater degree than others.
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hal-00813011 , version 1 (14-04-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00813011 , version 1


Pauline Beaupoil-Hourdel. How do children express refusal and rejection? A multimodal and corpus-based approach. SNUGLS 2013 (Sorbonne Nouvelle University Graduate Linguistics Symposium), Pauline Beaupoil, Laurent David, Vincent Hugou, Justine Paris, Alessandra Jacqueline Vieira, Apr 2013, Paris, France. ⟨hal-00813011⟩
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