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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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The Developmental Origins of Meaning for Mental Terms

The Developmental Origins of Meaning for Mental Terms

(p.106) 6 The Developmental Origins of Meaning for Mental Terms
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Derek E. Montgomery

Oxford University Press

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

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