Cognitive aspects of the child's linguistic politeness

Date of Completion

January 1990


Psychology, Developmental




This study investigated the emergence of the ability to adjust linguistic politeness to key social factors, focusing on the question of how children's requests are influenced by the listener's status and attitude, as well as the probability of his/her compliance. Sixty-four children from English-speaking homes participated in the experiment, half boys and half girls, representing two age levels, 3;0 and 4;6. Each child was told a story about a boy/girl from abroad who needed somebody to teach him/her how to make polite requests. The task consisted in teaching a character in one of eight everyday social situations, such as borrowing a bicycle or trying to get someone's help to remove a stain. A factorial ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for the subjects' age: the 3-year-olds were altogether less polite than the older group. Further, the older subjects correctly adjusted the level of linguistic politeness to the social situations presented in the stories; less and more polite requests were used where expected. Main effects for the listener's status and the probability of success were significant indicating sensitivity to those variables in requesting. However, the interaction among the independent variables did not reach statistical significance, suggesting that the children most of the time could focus only on one situational variable. Finally, a statistically significant sex difference was found. The younger girls produced more polite utterances than the boys of the same age. ^