Seminar: How children learn to use language for social communication

Dr Danielle Matthews (University of Sheffield) will give the final seminar of the 2018/19 series on Tuesday 4th June, 11-12.30 at the University of Manchester. She will share her research on Pragmatic Development: How children learn to use language for social communication.


In this presentation I will synthesize viable accounts of children’s communicative development and provide evidence that puts a particular emphasis on skill learning.  Infants come into the world wanting to be together with others and soon replace the comfort of touch and physical responsiveness with that of dyadic communication. With time, they gain increasingly precise control over their vocal communication and manage to weave the external world into their interactions. They start to communicate with the intention of directing others’ attention and expect us to comment appropriately. At the same time, they pick up on the fact that people use speech in reliable ways as they go about daily action. They infer how specific linguistic forms work and begin to use words as part of routines.  They thus build a structured inventory of form-function relations. In any context, they draw on this history of experience to infer what a speaker meant in the moment. Likewise, children learn to choose the most effective means of saying something themselves given a history of more or less successful exchanges. In becoming increasingly confident in how specific linguistic forms – and languages in general - are used  (with relation to the world, to other possible forms and to speakers), they launch processes of representational re-description (Karmiloff-Smith,1994) at the cognitive and social-cognitive levels.  One outcome is to effectively create an ever more precise awareness of others’ mental states, the effect language has on them and an assumption that others also share this awareness. More advanced pragmatic skills (e.g., deception, pretending not to hear, hidden authorship) build on this insight.  In sum, children start off with context-based pragmatics, derive a semantics and use it to do more sophisticated intention-based pragmatics. 

Where: Thouless Seminar Room, Coupland 1 Building, University of Manchester

When: 11-12.30, Tuesday 4th June 2019


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