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Amelia Bedelia 1

Final Project – Amelia Bedelia

Edward Belak

UCSD

EDUC-31218– Language and Language Development

Stephanie LaQua

4 March 2011
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Peggy Parish created a very endearing character for generations of readers when

she wrote her first Amelia Bedelia book in 1961. She went on to write eleven more

books in this series, up until her sudden death in 1988. Her books center around a very

sweet housekeeper, who is also a fantastic aficionado of pies. The conflict in the stories

generate from the issue of language between the Rogers family and Amelia. The Rogers

tend to give her directions that contain non-literal statements. Amelia, unbeknownst to

her, takes the commands literal and causes more problems than she solves. The table

below charts the list and the confusion from the first book, Amelia Bedelia (1963).

Table 1.1

List made by Mr and Mrs. Amelia’s meaning Conventional meaning


Rogers
Change the towels Change the physical Exchange the current towels
appearance of the towels with fresh ones
Dust the furniture Put dusting powder on Remove the dust from the
the furniture furniture.
Draw the drapes when the sun Draw a picture of the Close the drapes.
comes in. drapes
Put the lights out. Place the lights outside Turn off the lights.
on the laundry line
Measure two cups of rice. Fill two cups with rice Using a measuring cup, place
and stack them and two cups of rice into a
measure how tall they separate bowl.
are.
Trim the fat before you put Place bows and lace on Cut the fat off of the steak
the steak in the icebox. the edge of the meet as before you place it in the
we do on a Christmas icebox.
tree
Please, dress the turkey. Put clothes on the Please, finish preparing the
turkey. turkey to be cooked.
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When examining this relationship in regards to communicative competence, we

clearly see that there really is none. The core purpose of communication is to relay a

message from one person to another and have a desired result occur. This may be simply

to listen and appreciate what is being said, or it could be more imperative; go and do as I

say. The reader of this book can see that the desired results are not happening and a

breakdown is occurring somewhere along the line.

Lyle Bachman examined communicative competence and renamed it “language

competence” and split this into two broad categories; organizational competence, which

deals with grammar and syntax, and pragmatic competence, which focuses on

comprehension of the message itself. Bachman further divides the pragmatic competence

into two smaller parts: illocutionary competence (sending/receiving intended message)

and sociolinguistic competence (cultural norms) (Brown, p. 220). It is in these two

competencies that the breakdown between Mrs. Rogers and Amelia occur.

At first glance, a person may consider Amelia is having a communicative

deficiency. She was the one that did not understand what was being said to her. She was

the one that did every command literally. She struggled with the common

comprehension. However, we should point out that it is the person doing the

communication that is responsible for comprehension, not the listener.

Charlann Simon wrote that various researchers have pinpointed some very

specific areas of incompetent communication. One is an egocentric communication style

because points of reference are not clear (Simon, 1981, p. 38). The person does not take

into account the listener or struggles they may have. Mrs. Rogers is suffering from this

deficiency. Simon further states that other signs of incompetent communication are:
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1) Signs of very little planning prior to communication

a. This is clear in the fact that Mrs. Rogers uses so many idiomatic

statements when giving directions.

2) Conversation is difficult to maintain

a. Once the Rogers return home, they are unable to communicate to

Amelia that she has done wrong.

3) The language has not been shaped to be adaptable to varying needs of

communication.

a. Mrs. Rogers is not aware of Amelia’s limited understanding of her

speech and continues to correspond to her in the same manner for 12

books.

4) Deficiency in oral language crosses over into other modes of communication

(reading, writing).

a. Often times, Mrs. Rogers method of communication is through leaving

notes, which has the same issues as her verbal requests (Simon, 1981,

p. 38-9)

Furthermore, if strategic competence is concerned with getting the message across

effectively Mrs. Rogers has failed miserably in this competence as well (Garcia-

Carbonell et al., 2001, p. 484).

As we can see above, it is not at all Amelia’s fault for the

misunderstanding between her and her employers. In fact, she could be

considered a victim in this situation. The reader of Amelia’s books also have

several pieces of evidence to support that she does not have incompetent
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communication factors. If we compare Amelia to the above list of incompetent

communication, we will see that most do not match Amelia at all. One such piece

of evidence is the fact that she is capable of reading a recipe and preparing

exquisite baked goods. She is also able to communicate with Mrs. Rogers with no

problems and she has no problem holding conversations with all of the minor

characters she comes in contact with.

In conclusion, it is apparent that Amelia is not the one to blame for the

misunderstanding between her and Mrs. Rogers. All of these years, she has been

given a bad reputation for being naïve and inexperienced with figurative

language. In fact, it is Mrs. Rogers and her lack of competent communication that

has caused the problems that lasted 27 years. No wonder Amelia has been an

endearing character all of these years; her fans felt empathy towards her and the

unfortunate situation she was trapped in. Thank goodness she was a great baker

or her situation could have been a whole lot worse.


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References

Brown, H. D. (2008). Principles of language learning and teaching. Pearson Education.


5th edition.

Garcia-Carbonell, Rising, B., & Watts, B. (2001). “Simulation/gaming and the


acquisition of communicative competence in another language”. Communicative
competence. Spain: Sage Publications.

Parish, P. (1963). Amelia bedelia. Harper Collins Publishers.

Simon, C. (1981). Communication competence – a functional pragmatic approach to


language therapy. Tuscan, AZ: Communication Skill Builders, Inc.