Summer intern, Jasmine Calladine’s guest blog post

This summer I worked with Dr Alice Mitchell researching how person reference terms are used in child-directed speech in English. To do this we made use of the CHILDES database (example pictured below), a collection of transcriptions of children’s speech.  Instances of person reference were recorded and coded into five categories, kin terms, kin terms + name, name, noun phrase or pronoun.

An example of the CHILDES database. For more info see https://childes.talkbank.org/

We were particularly interested to see how adults used kinship terms, and whether they used their own perspective on the kinship relation or the child’s. Kin terms represented around a quarter of all person references in child-directed speech. Of these, the vast majority were anchored to the child’s perspective. Adults only rarely anchored kinship terms to their own perspective, and a small proportion of terms were anchored to a third person’s perspective, e.g. “Stefan’s Mummy”. This was most noticeable in the usage of kinterms as self-references. Adults would frequently refer to themselves by the kin term the child calls them, e.g. “Mummy’s going to the toilet, darling”. About half of all child-anchored kin terms were self-references, making this specific kin term usage one of the most frequent types.

There were also variations in the kin terms themselves. For example, the kin term “Mother” had several variations depending on country and the age of the child. “Mummy” was the most frequent term used by UK English speakers whereas American English speakers used “Mommy” the most. In kinterms relating to fathers, use of “Dada” was more likely to be found in corpora with younger children, whereas “Daddy” was used across a range of ages.

Whilst siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were likely to come up in conversation, these relations tended to be referred to by name rather than by kin term. Names were the most frequent type of person reference. A surprising finding from this research was the amount of times fictional characters, either from TV shows or books were discussed. Out of the 492 instances of name references in the database, “Miffy” a cartoon rabbit was mentioned 42 times! Other popular characters included Winnie the Pooh and Dora the explorer. It is unclear whether fictional characters are this frequent in naturalistic child-directed speech, or whether this is a bias of the way the information was collected as many of the recordings were of play sessions, where toys of those characters triggered discussion.

After finishing data collection I had the chance in my final week of my internship to contribute to the CHIELD project (pictured below). The first two papers I coded were concerned with language acquisition in children. I found it really interesting to learn about what evolutionary mechanisms underpinned the patterns of child-directed speech I had noticed in the database, as well as learn about cultural differences in how adults spoke to their children. Outside of university, music is my main hobby, so having the chance to read about its evolution and its connection to human language was really eye opening. Learning what evolutionary mechanisms are needed to support each part of singing behaviour (i.e. rhythmic and melodic phrasing) and how they could be found in non-human animals was particularly interesting for me.

Section of Jasmine’s CHIELD contribution. For more info see http://chield.excd.org/
Summer Intern, Jasmine Calladine

My four weeks as a summer intern at excd were really enjoyable. I learnt so much in a short period of time. Getting to grips with the practical side of anthropology, through data collection, coding and analysis will be an incredibly useful foundation for next year of my degree. Seeing the range of research being done in the lab has given me plenty of ideas for dissertation topics!

Overview of the CAKTAM Workshop January 2018

Overview of the CAKTAM Workshop January 2018

Notions of family and kin terms vary in complexity and structure, so to what extent does linguistic and cultural variation affect the acquisition of kinship knowledge? While kinship provides the major framework for social organisation in many societies, we still know very little about how children learn to categorise different kinds of kin.  The ‘Children’s Acquisition of Kinship Knowledge: Theory and Method Workshop’, led by EXCD lab of University of Bristol, provided a unique opportunity to explore and refine ideas in this largely overlooked area of research. Early-career researchers and distinguished academics alike, from anthropology, linguistics and psychology, gathered at The Engine Shed, Bristol in late January 2018, to propose theories and share in discussion. The result was a truly stimulating event.

Kicking off the two-day workshop, Professor Fiona Jordan’s introduction emphasised the EXCD lab’s interdisciplinary approach, highlighting the restricted variation of kinship systems, the question of ‘unthinkable families’ and the notable diversity of cousin systems around the world. Eve Danziger, Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Virginia, followed with a consideration of the syntactic and pragmatic parallels between kinship and spatial relationship terms, and their origins in “gesture-calls”. Using kinship acquisition data from her fieldwork with Mopan (Mayan) speakers, Eve showed how cultural elaboration of respect for elders complements the semantic feature “sex-of-senior”, producing cultural and cognitive consequences for sense of self.

Eve Clark, Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University, our second speaker of the day, offered interesting reflections on her pioneering 1974 study of the semantic complexity of kinship term acquisition using elicited definitions. This fresh perspective suggested further consideration should be given to children’s experience with kin terms in their communities, looking at both address and third-person reference.

Next, we heard from Bob Parkin, Emeritus Fellow of Oxford University’s School of Anthropology who considered the lack of current research on children’s learning of kinship within social anthropology. Bob’s presentation pointed towards the widespread anthropological objections to Malinowski’s extensionism, its unsuitability to all terminologies and its shortcomings as a universal theory of learning.  We then heard about infants’ observational learning skills from Tanya Broesch, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University. Tanya told us about learning from behavioural cues such as infant-directed speech, gestures, and facial expressions and how these cues aid interpretation of complex group member information such as defining friend or foe. The talk included an overview of Tanya’s multi-methods, cross-cultural approaches and her current data, collected via natural observation in multiple societies.

After lunch, a close analysis of the acquisition of kinship concepts in Australian Murrinhpatha-speaking communities followed, with interactional linguist Joe Blythe, of Macquarie University. Joe’s personalised experiments involved photos of individuals from each child’s genealogy, along with pre-recorded audio clips and stick figure animations, in order to determine children’s comprehension of kinterms. Leading on from this, EXCD team member, linguistic anthropologist Alice Mitchell of the University of Bristol, presented preliminary findings into kinship learning among Datooga children of Tanzania, as studied over nine months of fieldwork. Initial observations focused on child-anchored kin terms as a source of information for children. She then considered children’s understanding of the kin term for ‘mother’ and the apparent resistance to the use of word when referring to classificatory mothers.

As the afternoon progressed, we heard from Francis Mollica of The Computational & Language Laboratory, University of Rochester. Using a probabilistic Language of Thought model, Frank discussed simulations scrutinizing how simplicity, data distributions and assumptions about relatedness interface, giving rise to behavioural effects observed in children. These included a trajectory from under- to over-extension of kinship terms, and, in the case over over-extensions, the characteristic-to-defining shift.  The next presentation, by Annie Spokes from Harvard University’s Department of Psychology explored conceptual understanding of kinship as a social category and expectations for social interactions in 3-5 year old children in the US. She also examined how infants track relationships in care-giving networks within the first two years of life, forming expectations and early inferences about kin.

Julia Nee of the Department of Linguistics at Berkeley addressed us for the final session of the day via video-link. Julia’s field research with Teotitlan del Valle Zapotec speakers allowed her to examine whether languages show an optimization of complexity and communicative cost in dividing up the semantic domain of kinship, compared with English-speaking participants. Having covered a great deal of ground on the first day, workshop attendees met for dinner in central Bristol during the evening and talked over research ideas and experiences.

Friday provided an opportunity to focus on research methods. Joe and Alice introduced the first hour with a talk on elicitation and experiments. Camilla Morelli, Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Bristol, then provided an overview of the use of visual and sensory methods in child-centred anthropology. Drawing on her ethnographic fieldwork with indigenous children in the Peruvian Amazon, Camilla suggested ways in which such techniques can be applied when investigating kinship and the acquisition of kinship knowledge.

After a morning break, we heard again from Joe and Alice who led a wide-ranging discussion about linguistic and corpus-based methods. This useful, interactive session provided an opportunity for a closer exploration of the various approaches. Their two methods talks covered questionnaires and surveys for eliciting definitions and factual information, stimuli-based tasks using photos and/or dolls, and collecting behavioural data, both linguistic and non-linguistic. The discussion provided an opportunity to appraise successes and difficulties encountered in each of the approaches and the group exchanged experiences in the field.

We were then delighted to hear presentations from three early-career Phd Researchers. Sheina Lew-Levey from Cambridge University’s Dept of Psychology outlined her recent findings into the transmission of foraging knowledge as well as social and gender norms through play, word-play and teaching among Mbendjele forager children in the Congo Basin. Noa Lavi of Cambridge’s Anthropology Dept followed, with an overview of kinship concepts and flexible patterns of relationality among the Nayaka, hunter-gatherers in Nilgiri, South India. Noa described how Nayaka children’s knowledge and knowledge acquisition are based on gradual learning of the ability to alternate between different kinship concepts. Lastly, Gabriella Piña, a social anthropologist from the London School of Economics, talked about her work with the Pehuenche people of Southern Chile. In this society, independence and freedom are highly valued and offset by the practice of visiting and hosting, to support collaboration and avoid tension. She examined children’s participation in these activities and how these practices develop their understanding of kin.

Friday afternoon was dedicated to a round-up discussion. The group gathered in an open session to exchange views on the creation of a ‘field-kit’ intended to aid the study of the acquisition of kinship terms, for use by the group and other researchers.

In addition, as an ongoing interest, the group intend to make a joint interdisciplinary contribution towards a forthcoming article which will address a universal set of concerns relating to kinship acquisition. Most notably, the event was the first of its kind in its interdisciplinary draw and related events are likely to follow. One of the most considerable outcomes of the workshop has been the momentum created for future ventures and collaborations around developing the questions of kinship, forming new ideas and attracting newer researchers from an even greater diversification of approaches.

CAKTAM Workshop Handbook and Programme

CAKTAM Workshop Handbook and Programme

Today we are delighted to welcome colleagues from around the globe as we meet for this evening’s opening of the CAKTAM Workshop.  Over the next few days we’ll be sharing and learning together, ideas and methods for children’s acquisition of kinship knowledge.

We’ll be keeping you updated on Twitter and providing an overview here of all the great moments after the event.  In the meantime, here’s the CAKTAM Handbook and Programme.

Children’s Acquisition of Kinship Knowledge: Theory and Method (CAKTAM) Workshop

 Upcoming Workshop

Children’s Acquisition of Kinship Knowledge: Theory and Method

25th-26th January 2018, Bristol, UK

How do children learn kinship concepts? Given that both kin terms and kinship systems vary in complexity,
to what extent does linguistic and cultural variation affect the acquisition of kinship knowledge?

For many societies around the world, kinship provides the major framework for social organisation, yet we know very little about how children learn to categorise different kinds of kin. This two-day workshop at the University of Bristol will bring together researchers working both directly and indirectly on children’s acquisition of kinship concepts to stimulate and refine research in an important area for the cognitive and social sciences.

 

We are keen to engage a broad range of theoretical and methodological perspectives on kinship acquisition. We aim to address the following questions:

  • What do children of different ages know about kinship?
  • In what contexts, and through what media, do children learn about kinship? (e.g., everyday conversation, ritual, narrative)
  • What cognitive abilities does the acquisition of kinship terminology depend on? Is there anything “special” about kinship as a cognitive domain?
  • What light can acquisition shed on semantic models of kinship terms?
  • Do children differentiate close vs distant kin? How do they learn to classify the latter?
  • How does socio-cultural context affect the acquisition of kinship terms?
  • How, when, and why do children talk about kinship?
  • To what extent does complexity affect learning of kinship concepts?
  • To what extent do children differentiate kin from non-kin? How does this change over the course of development?
  • How is kinship represented in play?
  • How should we go about studying children’s acquisition of kinship concepts?

 

Our key speakers for the workshop include:

Joe Blythe                 (Linguistics, Macquarie)

Tanya Broesch         (Psychology, Simon Fraser)

Eve Clark                   (Linguistics, Stanford)

Eve Danziger            (Anthropology, Virginia)

Alice Mitchell           (Anthropology, Bristol)

Bob Parkin                (Anthropology, Oxford)

Annie Spokes           (Psychology, Harvard)

 

You are warmly invited to CAKTAM and invited to contribute as a participant or attendee.

We are very happy to invite additional contributions for 20-minute talks that respond to one or more of our guiding questions. Scholars from any relevant discipline are welcome, including but not limited to anthropology, linguistics, sociology, psychology, education, social work etc.

We would also like to encourage postgraduate students and early career researchers who may be interested in conducting research on children’s acquisition of kinship terms to attend the workshop. We will ask these participants to provide a short description of their research background for the workshop handbook, and, optionally, for those with an active or potential field site, to give a short, informal talk (5-10 minutes) discussing what this kind of research might look like in their particular research setting.

Short abstracts (200 words) for 20 minute talks, and brief expressions of interest in informal talks, should be submitted to varikin-project@bristol.ac.uk by 31st December.

In all cases, please email to express your interest in attending the workshop.

There is no registration fee for the workshop and lunches and refreshments will be provided. We are able to host up to 40 attendees and participants, so please contact us as soon as possible to reserve a place. We will provide attendees with travel directions and suggestions for local hotels.

A small amount of funding is available to help towards economy travel costs for students and early career researchers: please contact us for further details.

Workshop Organisers
Fiona Jordan
Alice Mitchell
Joe Blythe
Jo Hickey-Hall

Contact email: varikin-project@bristol.ac.uk

CAKTAM is a research activity of the ERC-funded VariKin project, hosted at the University of Bristol and led by Professor Fiona Jordan (https://excd.org/research-activities/#varikin).

 

  

 

Download Flyer

Handbook for CAKTAM Workshop

[scrapbook] Morgan’s Question.

From LH Morgan’s introduction to “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family“:

The tables, however, are the main results of this investigation. In their importance and value they reach far beyond any present use of their contents which the writer may be able to indicate. If they can be perfected, and the systems of the unrepresented nations be supplied, their value would be greatly increased. The classification of nations is here founded upon a comparison of their several forms of consanguinity. With some exceptions, it harmonizes with that previously established upon the basis of linguistic affinities. One rests upon blood, the preponderance of which is represented by the system of relationship; the other is founded upon language, the affinities of which are represented by grammatical structure. One follows ideas indicated in a system of relationship and transmitted with the blood ; the other follows ideas indicated in forms of speech and transmitted in the same manner. It may be a question which class of ideas has been perpetuated through the longest periods of time.

It strikes me that I am working on both Morgan’s Question and Galton’s Problem.