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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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Linguistic Communication and Social Understanding

Linguistic Communication and Social Understanding

(p.245) 12 Linguistic Communication and Social Understanding
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Heidemarie Lohmann

Michael Tomasello

Sonja Meyer

Oxford University Press

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

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