The conceptualization of immigration in children's narratives

Wiesława Ferlacka (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

The formation and development of concepts is one of the most important issues in cognitive psychology. This study focuses on one particular concept - the concept of immigration which, though under-represented as a lexical unit in the corpus, is a very popular strand in the collection of more than 300 authentic graded texts for native and ESL children aged 7-11. A comprehensive analysis of the above-mentioned texts demonstrates that the concept can already be found in the lower grade readers and that a net of connections with other word-concepts can be identified.

In the process of going from one levelled/graded story to another, the child goes from stage to stage of its cognitive development (cf. Piaget's stages and Reading A-Z correlations), and may ultimately discover the properties of the concept of immigration though there are only eight passages (i.e., 5 texts in 310) that contain the <immigr-> string. The abundance of information to be found in the stories actually lets the concept develop into a stable mental representation.

The study draws on the cognitive processes available to children at Piaget's third stage of development as well as statistical analyses of the categorized data. The features of the 'who', 'when', and 'why", as well as the social relations between the natives and newcomers finally produce a vivid image of an Immigrant Child (its immigrant I.D.). The affective load of the concept shows that emotion and connotation ought to be given a more central position in concept analysis.

These investigations into the representation of the 'native' attitudes towards the 'other' (his/her character, background, language, and emotions) bring to mind the literary types so common in 18 th century literature. However, a careful reading of the children's literature under analysis shows that the connotative meaning of the concept has changed over time.

Additionally, parallels between dictionary definitions are drawn to illustrate that texts for children are useful for concept formation and development, and that conceptual text mining could be used for electronic dictionary compilation (e.g., the theory behind Longman activator) as well as involving children in critical discourse analysis.