Chapter

The Developmental Origins of Meaning for Mental Terms

Derek E. Montgomery

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/9780195159912.003.0006
The Developmental Origins of Meaning for Mental Terms

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This chapter asks how children come to understand the meaning of mental terms such as think, know, want, and gonna. It compares two perspectives on word learning—the ostension paradigm and the contextual view. The first sees children working out word-referent relations, mapping mental terms onto mental concepts, whereas the second holds that children figure out the practical functions mental terms serve in social contexts. The central idea of ostension is that word meaning is based on the referential relation between mental states, which are experienced privately and internally, and the verbal labels of those states. The chapter challenges the ostension paradigm and suggests instead that children derive the meaning of mental terms from routine social interactions with their caregivers. Mentalistic language and its meaning grow out of interactive, preverbal exchanges—this is known as language games. The chapter maintains that mental terms, and hence mental concepts, acquire their meaning from the pragmatic roles they play in these early language games. It is in these communicative exchanges, it argues, that mental terms and concepts are socially constructed.

Keywords: children; mental terms; word learning; ostension paradigm; mental concepts; language games; communicative exchanges; word meaning; social interactions; mental states

Chapter.  7702 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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