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Language socialization: an historical overview

Author(s): Elinor Ochs and B. Schieffelin



Research in the area of language socialization initially considered the relation between language acquisition and socialization, which had been separated by disciplinary boundaries, psychology on the one hand and anthropology and sociology, on the other. Developmental psycholinguistic research focused (and continues to focus) upon phonological and grammatical competence of young children as individuals who are neurologically and psychologically endowed with the capacity to become linguistically competent speakers of a language along a developmental progression (Bloom, 1970; Brown et al., 1968; Slobin, 1969). Language acquisition research since the late 1960s has debated the source of linguistic competence as located either in innate structures, as the product of verbal input from the child’s environment, or some combination of both (Chomsky, 1965; Pinker, 1994; Snow, 1972,1995). Socialization research posed a set of complementary but independently pursued questions, primarily revolving around the necessity for children to acquire the culturally requisite skills for participating in society, including appropriate ways of acting, feeling, and thinking. In foundational anthropological studies of childhood and adolescence cross-culturally (e.g., LeVine et al., 1994; Mead, 1928; Whiting, Whiting, and Longabaugh, 1975) as well as in pre-1960s sociological theorizations of continuities and discontinuities in social order across generations, verbal resources generally were not investigated as a critical component of socialization processes (Mead, 1934; Parsons, 1951). As a result, the sociocultural nexus of children’s communicative development remained largely an uncharted academic territory, and the disciplines that addressed the paths of different types of knowledge acquisition—psycholinguistic and sociocultural—remained isolated from each other.


APA Citation:

Ochs, E., & Schieffelin, B. (2008). Language socialization: an historical overview. In P. A. Duff & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language education (Vol. 8, pp. 3-15). New York: Springer.


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