Presented To

Department of English and Linguistics

This thesis titled “A Pragmatic Interpretation of Child Language: A Case Study of
Telegraphic Speech has been carried out to determine the role of context in understanding language use by children or children‟s speech. Pragmatics is the study of speaker context meaning…. It is a component of linguistic study that goes beyond grammatical competence or well formed sentence to find meaning for a particular utterance or discourse exchange. It demonstrates the relationship between what speakers say and what they actually mean and the kind of effects they expect on the minds of the hearers. The motivation for the study emanates from the fact that children‟s utterances are not easily understood, especially when one is not familiar with the child‟s background and speech mannerisms. To a large extent, one needs to rely on context to effectively comprehend what a child says. The study sought to establish whether or not situations and circumstance of speech could be brought to bear in order to discern meaning in children‟s utterances: whether contextual meaning would be needed to complement semantics. The three media recording technique was employed to elicit utterances from Punpun, the case study child. The utterances were later interpreted pragmatically through the Systemic Functional Grammar‟s primary level of linguistic analysis: grammar and situation. Interpretations were also made using the various approaches through which pragmatic study is undertaken. The result of the interpretation shows that to a very great extent, context is indispensable, one cannot rely on grammar or literal meaning alone, one has also to make use of inferences, ask questions from those that understand the child better, take a thought, follow the context – both linguistic and non linguistics. All these point to the fact that an understanding of the child‟s general language situation aids in understanding his speech. The implication of this is that attention should be paid to what a child says, no one uses language without reason. Close attention should be paid to children and what they say, they don‟t speak in vacuum. Even if their speech is not matured as that of adult, yet, it is meaningful and they intend to do one thing or the other through whatever they say: Language is a tool for communication and a child utilizes this tool for various reasons. A child, at any time utilizes his linguistic knowledge to effectively pass across to his hearer, his intentions or desire while expecting the cooperation of the hearer who may need to rely on some background information to attend to him. This study also confirms the fact that children‟s utterances can be subjected to various pragmatic theories such as deixis, conversational analysis, cooperative principles, and so on
1.0              Background to the Study
Language is a peculiar gift of nature to man.  It is a central and complex
phenomenon to all human beings. It stands at the centre of all human endeavours from the onset of human civilization. Language is the means of acquisition of all manner of knowledge and the tool by which morals, ethics and beliefs that govern human lives are passed on to the succeeding generations. It is the medium of thought and expression of human wants, desires, emotions, ideas, both positive and negative. Clark and Clark (1977) see language as a basic ingredient in virtually every social situation.
However, no one is born an adult with full possession of this vehicle of thought and expression. Rather, a man is born an infant who passes through various stages of growth, which significantly impact on his use of language. A child does not also begin to speak automatically when the time comes for him to; he undergoes some stages before and after the onset of meaningful utterances with which he communicates with his environment. As a result of the inevitability of language in human life, parents look forward with great expectation to seeing their children utter the first words.
As a special area of human life, psycholinguistics is the field of language studies that handles the issue of language acquisition. As Berry (1975) puts it, psycholinguistics is the discipline that discusses both psychological and linguistic issues in relation to each other. A central question in psycholinguistics is the issue of child language acquisition which could be perceived as the process by which a human

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