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Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice

By Ingrid Piller

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach

By Rudolf Botha

Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"


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Academic Paper


Title: Young children's sensitivity to listener knowledge and perceptual context in choosing referring expressions
Author: Angelika Wittek
Institution: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Author: Michael Tomasello
Institution: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics
Abstract: Speakers use different types of referring expressions depending on what the listener knows or is attending to; for example, they use pronouns for objects that are already present in the immediate discourse or perceptual context. In a first study we found that 2.5- and 3.5-year-old children are strongly influenced by their interlocutor's knowledge of a referent as expressed in her immediately preceding utterance. Specifically, when they are asked a question about a target object ("Where is the broom?"), they tend to use null references or pronouns to refer to that object ("On the shelf" or "It's on the shelf"); in contrast, when they are asked more general questions ("What do we need?") or contrast questions ("Do we need a mop?") that reveal no knowledge of the target object they tend to use lexical nouns ("A broom" or "No, a broom"). In a second study we found that children at around their second birthday are not influenced by immediately preceding utterances in this same way. Finally, in a third study we found that 2.5- and 3.5-year-old children's choice of referring expressions is very little influenced by the physical arrangements of objects in the perceptual context, whether it is absent or needs to be distinguished from a close-by alternative, when they request a target object from a silent adult. These results are discussed in terms of children's emerging understanding of the knowledge and attentional states and other persons.

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This article appears IN Applied Psycholinguistics Vol. 26, Issue 4, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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