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© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY Dinner table conversations

Kristine Fitch used a study of dinner table conversation to illustrate the approach of the ethnography of communication:

By way of illustration, a study by Shoshana Blum-Kulka (1997) focused on family dinner table conversations in three distinct speech communities: Israelis, US Americans, and American immigrant families in Israel. She described perceptions of children's identities within the family in each of these communities as they were reflected in particular ways of speaking, including (among other communication phenomena) different styles of making requests and giving commands. Although parents in all three groups directed childrens' behavior quite frequently and often in very direct ways, Israeli parents used nicknames and endearments to soften their directives whereas Americans used first names and conventional politeness forms, such as "please." Another contrast between the groups involved socialization children into correct and appropriate uses of language. Israeli parents explicitly taught rules of correct language use, reflecting a concern for maintenance of Hebrew. By contrast, Americans were more concerned with everyone in the family having a fair share of turns at talk, reflecting cultural premises about the importance of expressing a unique, autonomous "self" (a ritual included in the native term for such talk "real communication," see also Katriel & Philipsen). This study showed similar forms of talk across cultures: the setting of the family dinner table as an important arena for family interaction and socialization of children, the use of direct speech when talking to children as opposed to adults, evaluation and correction of particular uses of language as part of socialization into a specific system of rules and meanings. It also showed culturally distinctive styles of language use that reflected cultural beliefs about personhood, relationships and communication itself and how those styles (and the system of symbols and meanings that make those styles distinctive) are conveyed from one generation to another within a particular speech community.

Source: Fitch (undated)


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