Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization in Family Discourse

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9780805817751: Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization in Family Discourse
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Dinner Talk draws upon the recorded dinner conversations of, and extensive interviews with, native Israeli, American Israeli, and Jewish American middle-class families to explore the cultural styles of sociability and socialization in family discourse. The thesis developed is that family dinners in Western middle-class homes fulfill important functions of sociability for all participants and, at the same time, serve as crucial sites of socialization for children through language and for language use. The book demonstrates the way talk at dinner constructs, reflects, and invokes familial, social, and cultural identities and provides social support for easing the passage of children into adult discourse worlds.

Family discourse at dinner emerges as a particularly rich site for discursive socialization and a highly meaningful enactment of sociable behavior in culturally patterned ways. Although all the families studied have a commom Eastern European background, Israeli and Jewish American families are shown to differ extensively in their interactional styles, in ways that enact historically different, community-related interpretations of the dialectics of continuity and change. Native Israeli, American Israeli, and Jewish American families differ culturally in the ways they negotiate issues of power, independence, and involvement through various speech activities such as the choice and initiation of topics, conversational story-telling, naming practices, metapragmatic discourse, politeness strategies, and in immigrant, bilingual families, language choice and code switching. Dinner Talk demonstrates the unique interactional style of each of the groups, linking the observed communication patterns to the ideological, sociocultural, and historical contexts of their respective communities.

This innovative study of family discourse from a cross-cultural perspective will appeal to students and specialists in sociolinguistics, communication, anthropology, child language, and family and Jewish studies, as well as to all interested in patterns of communication within families.

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Review:

...it is a rewarding [book] both in what it tells us about the families we have had the privilege to hear indirectly and for what it shows about the ability of fine analysis to illuminate the culture of speakers.
Journal of Sociolinguistics

Blum-Kulka's book is a valuable resource for both sociolinguists and sociologists of language who are interested in pragmatic socialization and cross-cultural analysis. The work will be of interest to those who explore the construction of cultural identity in talk, as well as those more specifically concerned with cultureal divergence among American and Israeli Jewish communities. The study also serves as an excellent example of the micro-analytic approach to questions about the relationship between language and culture.
Language in Society

In this book, Shoshana Blum-Kulka demonstrates that dinner-table conversations are like holograms, each one a complete, if fuzzy, picture of the diners' culture and their procedures for socializing their children. She has put together 102 such mealtime conversations, to give us a fully configured, sharply focussed picture of how children become members of their parents' culture, and how parents' behavior shifts to accommodate new cultural influences.
 
We should all be grateful that the admonition about talking with their mouths full was ignored by members of the 34 families Blum-Kulka studied, in the U.S. and in Israel. Their talk during dinner, recorded, transcribed, and analyzed, sheds light on socialization, on cultural membership, on narrative, on code-switching, on metapragmatic skills, on topic development, and on politeness.
 
You will never sit down at dinner with your family again, without thinking of this book. It shows how the simple act of sharing a meal can be a mechanism for teaching children, for expressing one's identity, and for transmitting one's culture.

Catherine Snow
Harvard University

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