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Conference Papers Year : 2013

A multimodal and corpus-based approach to children's expression of refusal and rejection.


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. As discussed by Bloom (1970) and later Choi (1988), rejection and refusal are negative functions which appear very early in children's productions. At first they are conveyed by actions and motions of avoidance (Clark, 1978), but as children grow older they use symbolic means to express negation (Guidetti, 2005). Spitz (1957) 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, this path from actions to speech does not apply to rejection and refusal as they can be signalled nonverbally (Horn, 2001). To understand the way refusal and rejection are conveyed in children's productions, I analysed all the actions, gestures, vocalisations and verbal productions of one French-speaking child and one English-speaking child filmed for one hour a month between ten months and four years old, along with those of their adult interlocutors. This study was conducted from a multimodal and constructivist theoretical perspective. A specific 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 but one of them does not replace this modality with gestures during her second year. When their language has become complex, they continue using actions in combination with speech and when refusal and rejection are verbalised, their expression often takes the form of a no or non and does not require a complex syntactic realisation. The way the two children express refusal and rejection from 1;00 to 4;00 is very different from the path they use to express other modalities like denial or absence. Indeed, they usually use actions, then gestures and finally words alone or in combination with gestures but they hardly rely on actions once their speech has become elaborate. These findings show that the expression of refusal and rejection depends on the situation and on individual differences. This study also 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. Children's use of different modalities to refuse is an ideal domain for examining the relation between action and cognitive development and provides further support for embodied approaches to language development. References: Bloom, L. (1970) Language development: Form and Function in emerging grammars. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Choi, S. (1988) The Semantic development of negation: Across-linguistic study. Journal of Child Language 15, 517-532. Clark, E.V. (1978) From gesture to word, on the natural history of deixis in language acquisition. In J.S. Bruner & A. Garton (ed.), Human growth and development: Wolfson College lectures (1976). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 85-120. Guidetti, M. (2005) Yes or no? How do young children combine gestures and words to agree and refuse. Journal of Child Language 32, 911-924. Horn, L.R. (2001) A Natural History of Negation. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publication. Kendon, A. (2002) Some uses of the headshake. Gesture 2, 2, 147-182. Spitz, R.A. (1957) No and Yes: On the Genesis of Human Communication. New York: International Universities Press, Inc. New York.
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hal-00824102 , version 1 (21-05-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00824102 , version 1


Pauline Beaupoil-Hourdel. A multimodal and corpus-based approach to children's expression of refusal and rejection.. AFLiCo V - Fifth International Conference of the Association Française de Linguistique Cognitive - Empirical approaches to multi-modality and to language variation, Maarten Lemmens and Annie Risler and Bert Cappelle and Dany Amiot., May 2013, Lille, France. ⟨hal-00824102⟩
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