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

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

Chapter:
(p.84) 5 Talking About “New” Information: The Given/New Distinction and Children’s Developing Theory of Mind
Source:
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind
Author(s):

Daniela K. O’Neillm

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195159912.003.0005

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

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