Peter Garrett & Angie Williams

The investigation of group prejudice and negative stereotypes has long been a focus of language awareness research and teaching. Racism, ethnocentrism and sexism have been prime sites of such work (see, for example, Fairclough’s edited volume Critical Language Awareness Longman, 1992). But there has so far been little attention to ageism, despite the significant demographic trend towards a large elderly population in the West. Interestingly, this is an area in which government concern (e.g. the recent publicity campaign by the Department of Trade and Industry in the UK) precedes us.

There have, however, been a number of studies into intergenerational communication in recent years, particularly in the USA, the UK, Australia, and the Pacific Rim. This work has been largely in the field of Human Communication (rather than specifically language-oriented), and the research focus has for the most part been on judgements of the elderly.

This paper reports two studies extending the focus to include communication with young adolescents as well as with the elderly. Two groups of respondents (20-25 years; 26-55 years) reported their perceptions of others’ communication behaviour towards them, and their own communication behaviour with other age groups. Findings showed that while the elderly were seen as more non-accommodative than peers or adolescents, 13-16 year olds were seen as more non-communicative. Both groups of respondents reported their use of avoidance strategies and communication adjustment strategies with 13-16 year olds.