Absence, Negation, Impossibility and Falsity in Children’s First Writing
The study aims at investigating the hypotheses that preliterate children work out, before the systematic teaching of writing, about the written representation of negation, absence, impossibility, and falsity. This problematic area has been previously investigated by Ferreiro (1981; 1997) and by Olson (1996). The present study focuses on a whole range of tasks concerning written representation, that were presented to 62 preliterate children, attending kindergarten and having an age between 4 yrs. 8 mth. and 6 yrs. 5 mth. The children were given a complex interview, including tasks that concerned children’s skill in representing negation, quantifiers and absence, and the written representation of impossible and false statements. Some of these tasks may create representational problems in children, since a contrast between reality and writing was purposively created. We expected a relationship between children’s writing development (that we measured independently) and their answers, at least in the two first tasks.
The results showed a difference between children who are at different levels of writing development: those whose writings were in the first phases are often available to “write” everything. Those who wrote in ways that are closer to the conventional system of writing, showed limited refusal to write absence, while they often refused to write statements that are impossible and false and verbally argued about them. There is also a difference in the role of writing development as concerns this field of representation. A consistent group of children (who wrote in a syllabic and/or alphabetic way) refused to write down phrases that described falsity and impossibility, while they were available to write about negation and absence. This proved that they did not require overcoming an objectivistic view (in which an object must be present to be written down) but rather they have to cope with an attributed truth value to any writing. Thus we do not share the position of Olson (1996) who stated that children cannot write absence or negation because they think that writing concerns an existing object and not a word. This could be true only at a very initial level of writing development and can explain only some results in the first two tasks of our interview, concerning negation and absence. As concerns the other two tasks of writing about impossibility and falsity, the difficulty encountered by children who wrote at a syllabic and/or alphabetical level and who have surely overcome any objectivistic view of writing, seems to have to do with the necessary truth value of what you write. This latter aspect deserves further studies.
Key wordsearly writing levels of writing Italian representation of content representation of negation impossibility falsity
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