Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Talking backward: exceptional speech play in late childhood*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Nelson Cowan
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Lewis A. Leavitt
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Abstract

The game of ‘talking backward’, invented independently by two boys aged 8; 10 and 9; 11, is studied with reference to the role of speech play in linguistic, cognitive, and social development. Case reports from 27 adult backward talkers suggest a lower limit of about 7 years for the onset of this ability. The backward speech of the two children illustrates how either phonology or orthography can be used as a basis for backward speech, and demonstrates the boys' knowledge of phonemic units and letter-to-sound correspondences. Talking backward belongs to a larger class of ‘secret’ language games that may be cognitively and pragmatically well suited to children of this age.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1982

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.

Footnotes

[*]

Address for correspondence: Dr Lewis A. Leavitt, 553 Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Madison, WI 53706, U.S.A.

References

Berkovits, R. (1970). Secret languages of schoolchildren. New York Folklore Quarterly 26. 127–52.Google Scholar
Chrisman, O. (1893). Secret language of children. Science XXII (565). 303–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Conklin, H. C. (1956). Tagalog speech disguise. Lg 32. 136–9.Google Scholar
Cowan, N. & Leavitt, L. A. (in prep.). Backward speech: variants of an unusual skill.Google Scholar
Cowan, N., Massaro, D. W. & Kent, R. D. (in press). A fluent backward talker. JSpHearRes.Google Scholar
Dunn, L. M. (1965). Expanded manual for the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
Elkind, D. (1970). Children and adolescents. London: O.U.P.Google ScholarPubMed
Fromkin, V. A. (ed.) (1973). Speech errors as linguistic evidence. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Garvey, C. (1977). Play. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Gleitman, L. & Rozin, P. (1973). The use of a syllabary. Reading Research Quarterly 8. 447–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haas, M. R. (1957). Thai word games. Journal of American Folklore 70. 173–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hirschberg, L. K. (1913). ‘Dog latin’ and sparrow-languages used by Baltimore children. Ped Sem 20. 257–8.Google Scholar
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (ed.) (1976). Speech play. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, D. (1970). Manual for the McCarthy scales of children's abilities. New York: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
McGhee, P. E. (1974). Cognitive mastery and children's humor. PsychBull 81. 721–30.Google Scholar
McNinch, G. (1975). Experiments in phoneme shifting perceptions in preliterate and literate samples. In McNinch, G. & Miller, W. (eds), Reading: convention and inquiry. 24th yearbook of the National Reading Conference, Clemson, SC.Google Scholar
Opie, I. & Opie, P. (1959). The lore and language of school children. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. (1951). Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.Google ScholarPubMed
Prentice, N. M. & Fathman, R. E. (1975). Joking riddles: a developmental index of children's humor. DevPsych 11. 210–16.Google Scholar
Read, C. (1973). Children's judgments of phonetic similarities in relation to English spelling. LL 23. 1738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Savin, H. (1972). What the child knows about speech when he starts to learn to read. In Kavanaugh, J. & Mattingly, I. (eds), Language by ear and by eye. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T.Google Scholar
Sherzer, J. (1970). Talking backwards in Cuna: the sociological reality of phonological descriptions. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26. 343–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sutton-Smith, B. (1976). A developmental structural account of riddles. In Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (ed.), Speech play. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Venezky, R. L. (1970). The structure of English orthography. The Hague: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 41 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th January 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Hostname: page-component-76cb886bbf-wsww6 Total loading time: 0.35 Render date: 2021-01-24T19:47:51.874Z Query parameters: { "hasAccess": "0", "openAccess": "0", "isLogged": "0", "lang": "en" } Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false }

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Talking backward: exceptional speech play in late childhood*
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Talking backward: exceptional speech play in late childhood*
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Talking backward: exceptional speech play in late childhood*
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response


Your details


Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *