Culture at Play: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Mother-Child Communication during Toy Play

Sirada Rochanavibhata*, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Maternal scaffolding and four-year-old children’s linguistic skills were examined during toy play. Participants were 21 American-English monolingual and 21 Thai monolingual mother-child dyads. Results revealed cross-cultural differences in conversation styles between the two groups. American dyads adopted a high-elaborative style relative to Thai dyads. American and Thai mothers utilized unique sets of elicitation strategies to facilitate different aspects of children’s language development, specifically American mothers focused on children’s narrative skills whereas Thai mothers emphasized vocabulary learning. The two groups of children showed distinct patterns of conversation, for example, American children produced greater evaluative statements whereas Thai children repeated their mothers’ utterances more, which aligned with socialization goals of each respective culture. Mother-child narrative styles also differed as a function of child gender. Additionally, significant positive correlations were observed between maternal and child linguistic measures. These findings provide evidence for cross-cultural variation in communicative styles and toy play practices of American and Thai mother-child dyads, which reflect the social norms of individualistic and collectivist cultures. More broadly, the present study suggests that dyadic engagement during play is important for children’s development and socialization, as maternal speech transfers knowledge of culture-specific pragmatic rules that the children learn to apply in social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-309
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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