Haviland's and Clark's research on stages of childrens' linguistic development of kinship terms

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There have been many studies on kinship terms. In 1928, Piaget looked at children's definitions of the terms 'brother' and 'sister'. Danziger (1957) and Elkind (1962) replicated the study and also looked at three additional terms: 'daughter', 'uncle' and 'cousin'.

However, it was not until 1974, that Haviland and Clark asked children, between the ages of 3 and 8, to define 15 kinship terms. These were: mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, grandson, granddaughter, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew and cousin.

What concerned Haviland and Clark was whether the differences in semantic complexity can be used to predict the order of acquisition of the kinship terms. For example, mother is less semantically complex than cousin. Therefore, according to Haviland and Clark, mother would be acquired prior to cousin regardless of whether the children had experienced the particular relationship.

We carried out our fieldwork at San Anton School. We spoke to 20 random students from four different grades: five from pre-grade, five from Grade 2, five from Grade 3 and five from Grade 4. These children all spoke English fluently. Basically, they did not have any problems understanding the questions. Nevertheless, it is evident that some of these random children were conscious of the camera and perhaps even shy of us, as they had never met us before.

The Stages according to Haviland and Clark

In the first stage, the child has no component features and gives an extremely basic definition.

For example: "What is a brother?"

" A brother is a boy" (3 years old)

The child may even pick up on some completely irrelevant factor such as the person's name or the job that they do. We also considered Maltese translations to fall under Stage 1 (for example: "What is a grandmother?" "A nanna")

In the second stage, the child describes some features of the term but not relational ones.

For example:"What is an aunt?"

"When your mother is not home, you stay with your aunty" (5 years old)

In the third stage, the child uses relational terms but they are not yet reciprocal.

For example: "What is a sister?"

"A mother's other baby" (5 years old)

In the fourth stage, the child would know that the term is both relational and reciprocal.

For example: "What is a grandmother?"

"My mother's or father's mother" (7 years old)

Moreover, Haviland and Clark stated that the older a child is , then the better his grasp of the semantic system is as he will know more active vocabulary. Thus, they attributed the stages to different age groups. These being 3years 5months in Stage 1, 5years 10months in Stage 2, 6years 6months in Stage 3 and 7years in Stage 4.

However, our study showed that the children's knowledge of kinship terms did not correspond to the age groups, which Haviland and Clark predicted. For example, 7-year-old Maria responded to "What is a mother?" giving a stage 2 definition, a father also in stage 2, a brother in stage 1, a sister in stage 2, and interesting was then able to give us stage 4 definitions for uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and cousin. Similarly, 5 year old Luke responded to "What is a mother" and "What is a father" giving stage 1 definitions, brother and sister in stage 3, grandmother, grandfather and cousin in stage 4 and didn't know the meaning of aunt and uncle.

The Results

Transcript of our results

The Results

We looked at the answers the children gave us, and grouped them into stages, as according to the levels outlined by Haviland and Clark.

What is a mother?

Stage3 year olds4 year olds5 year olds6 year olds7year olds

Stage one31233

Stage two11212

Stage three

Stage four1

Don't know

What is a father?

Stage3 year olds4 year olds5 year olds6 year olds7year olds

Stage one3123

Stage two11215

Stage three

Stage four1

Don't know

What is a sister?

Stage3 year olds4 year olds5 year olds6 year olds7year...
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