Speech acts in picturebooks
Eva Gressnich, Saturday 10.00-10.30

In my talk I will exemplify the overall relation between language acquisition and children’s literature by focusing on one specific field of language, namely the phenomenon of speech acts. The theory of speech acts goes back to J.L. Austin (1962) and J.R. Searle (1969) and is considered a central component of linguistic pragmatics. It refers to the fact that we can “do things with words” (Austin 1962), i. e. in making an utterance a speaker performs an act. Examples of speech acts are assertions, promises, questions, requests, greetings, threats etc.
In my analysis, I will concentrate on the use of speech acts in Anglo-Saxon picturebooks and the child learner’s acquisition of speech acts as a fundamental part of pragmatic competence. On the basis of selected books, I will point out which types of speech acts occur, how they are realised through different linguistic forms, by whom they are performed (character within the story vs. narrator outside the story), and who is addressed by them (character within the story vs. reader). Furthermore, I will sketch out certain aspects of speech act acquisition (cf. Ninio/Snow 1996) and the abilities a reader must have in order to understand the speech acts used in the selected picturebooks. In first language acquisition as well as in second language acquisition, learners must work out the interrelation between various sentence types and speaker’s intentions/speech acts. I will show that some picturebooks can have great influence on this particular acquisition process.
My overall aim is to illustrate the complex connection between language acquisition and children’s books. A reader must have certain linguistic abilities in order to understand and speak about certain aspects of literature, but at the same time joint reading of picturebooks, e. g. in a language teaching context, supports language learning on many levels.

Eva Gressnich is a PhD student at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz (Germany). PhD thesis on linguistics of the picturebook. Publications: Several articles in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (2006); article on first-person narratives in picturebooks and the acquisition of deixis (with Jörg Meibauer) to appear in the Routledge volume New Directions in Picturebook Research (forthcoming).