Moves in the territory of literacy? – the telephone discourse of three- and four-year olds.
Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 2(1) pp. 21–43.
The concept of the 'new communication landscape' (Kress, 1998) is propelling a re-examination of what is meant by literacy, and the ways in which we seek to identify and promote literacy practices in young children. This article reviews theoretical moves to destabilize the dichotomy between oracy and literacy. Challenges posed by an examination of new technologies are set against those that draw on evidence from diverse cultural and historical contexts. The telephone presents a contemporary context that has been largely overlooked in child language research - yet this medium possesses its own specific constraints and opportunities for discourse, necessitating a shift away from the 'here-and-now' characteristic of very young children's talk, to a consideration of the interlocutor's distance characteristic of literacy. An analysis of the practices of three- and four-year-old children's spontaneous telephone play demonstrates many ways in which their oral practices in this communication channel may be conceptualized within an understanding of their symbolic meaning-making practices that is related to literacy, rather than a separate domain of activity. Finally, it is proposed that Bakhtin's notion of 'speech genre' provides a particularly useful characterization of this important aspect of language development in the context of communication technology.
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