Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Arts


School of Education


Faculty of Arts

First Supervisor

Dr Terry Williams


Children learn language through social interaction, and those with whom they interact will influence their language development in a variety of ways. Different features of adult speech are likely to be facilitative of children’s language development in different ways. Parents are one group of adults who play a particularly signification role in children’s language acquisitions and development, and the nature and role of their speech to children has been an important research emphasis for the past three decades. Initially mothers' speech was the focus of the studies of parent speech, but since the early 1970s attention has also been given to fathers' speech. Most of the research has investigated fathers' speech by comparing it with mothers' speech. Parents' speech has been found to be very similar in its formal characteristics, but differences are realised in conversational and. functional features. Some of this work also suggests that differences in parents' speech may become more evident as children get older. The present study investigates qualitatively some of the characteristics of parental speech. In particular it seeks to identify characteristics which may predominate in fathers' speech, and thus differentiate it from mothers' speech. The data on which the study is based were collected from five Australian families interacting in a variety of contexts in their own homes. The children were all firstborn, and aged between 2;6 and 3;8 years. Because of its exploratory nature, this study has used various formal conversational and functional measures in the analysis. The analysis of formal features showed fathers’ and mothers’ speech to be very similar, but difference between parents were evident at the conversational and functional levels. These outcomes were consistent with those of comparable overseas research. The conversational and functional analyses included investigation of interactional styles, discourse patterns, Locus of Reference, and use of Linking References. Fathers were found to be more oriented to directiveness than the conversation-elicitation when interacting with their young children. Compared with mothers, fathers were also less likely to employ amelioration strategies in using imperatives, or to use linking references when reading books or playing with puzzles with their young children. Several discourse patterns were identified in the book reading and puzzle play contexts. The patterns appear to be associated more with interactional styles than with gender. The outcomes of the study support the hypothesis that fathers and mothers play complementary roles in children's language development. The differences between fathers and mothers can be seen as assisting in the development of children's communicative competence. Through the experience of interacting with different types of speakers in a variety of contexts children learn how to cope with different conversational demands, how to utilise their conversational resources appropriately and how to encode meaning in different ways. The outcomes of this study indicate many possibilities for future research. In particular,- it is recommended that future studies include data from wider variety of interactional contexts and from more diverse participant groups.

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