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Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind$
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Janet Wilde Astington and Jodie A. Baird

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195159912

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.001.0001

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What Does “That” Have to Do with Point of View? Conflicting Desires and “Want” in German

What Does “That” Have to Do with Point of View? Conflicting Desires and “Want” in German

Chapter:
(p.220) 11 What Does “That” Have to Do with Point of View? Conflicting Desires and “Want” in German
Source:
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind
Author(s):

Josef Pemer

Petra Zauner

Manuel Sprung

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.003.0011

This chapter demonstrates that, regardless of whether a given language requires tensed that-complements to express beliefs and desires, children understand desires before beliefs. For example, German-speaking children understand and talk about desire substantially earlier than about belief, despite the fact that their language requires tensed that-complements to express both mental states. Chinese-speaking children similarly understand desire before belief, even though their language does not require tensed that-complements for either mental state. These findings challenge the notion that the syntactic form of how we talk about the mind forms the basis for how we think about the mind. This chapter also cites a number of studies that show a correspondence between the age at which children understand differences in point of view in the context of conflicting desires and the age at which children understand differences in point of view in the context of false beliefs. These findings refute the argument that the understanding point of view is derived from an understanding of the particular syntactic structure associated with belief verbs, which desire verbs do not share.

Keywords:   language, that-complements, beliefs, desires, children, mental states, mind, false beliefs, point of view, verbs

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