Linguistic Communication and Social Understanding

Heidemarie Lohmann, Michael Tomasello and Sonja Meyer

in Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195159912
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847150 | DOI:
Linguistic Communication and Social Understanding

Show Summary Details


This chapter explores the early stages of pragmatic language acquisition before taking up the issue of syntax and semantics. It suggests that the relation between language and theory of mind is different depending on which aspect of social understanding is at issue. In particular, it argues that an appreciation of other persons as intentional agents—the first level of social understanding—is a prerequisite for language acquisition. The chapter presents evidence from a training study aimed at developing false-belief reasoning to show that both conversation about deceptive objects and training on the syntax of complementation (in the absence of deceptive objects) promote three-year-olds' false-belief understanding. The largest training effect occurred in a condition that combined conversation and complements. The fact that manipulating the deceptive objects without any conversation about them was ineffective leads to the conclusion that language is a necessary condition for children to make progress in their understanding of false beliefs, lending support to the claim that language plays a causal role in the ontogeny of social understanding.

Keywords: language acquisition; syntax; semantics; language; theory of mind; social understanding; conversation; deceptive objects; complementation; false beliefs

Chapter.  9342 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.