Chapter

Talking About “New” Information: The Given/New Distinction and Children’s Developing Theory of Mind

Daniela K. O’Neillm

in Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195159912
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847150 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.003.0005
Talking About “New” Information: The Given/New Distinction and Children’s Developing Theory of Mind

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This chapter explores how children's theory of mind underlies their pragmatic competence in communicative exchanges. It summarizes a growing body of literature on children's ability to talk about new (as opposed to given, or known) information. It argues that in order to tailor their speech in an appropriate manner to include references to new information, children must take into account the mental states of the listener, for example, what he or she knows, does not know, or might want to know. The chapter claims that children's ability to recognize topics that will be relevant to the listener is crucial for entering the community of minds. Part of pragmatic competence is the ability to use and interpret language appropriately in social situations, by keeping track of listeners' and speakers' beliefs and intentions. One could argue that understanding and awareness of belief and intention are part of theory of mind, and keeping track of them in language use is pragmatics—in which case one can then argue that theory-of-mind abilities underlie pragmatic abilities.

Keywords: children; theory of mind; communicative exchanges; new information; mental states; pragmatics; community of minds; language; beliefs; intentions

Chapter.  10412 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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