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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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Language Promotes Structural Alignment in the Acquisition of Mentalistic Concepts

Language Promotes Structural Alignment in the Acquisition of Mentalistic Concepts

(p.123) 7 Language Promotes Structural Alignment in the Acquisition of Mentalistic Concepts
Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Dare A. Baldwin

Megan M. Saylor

Oxford University Press

This chapter suggests that language may facilitate children's acquisition of mentalistic concepts by serving as an aid to analogical reasoning and inductive inference. That is, language invites children to compare different behaviors that otherwise they would not attempt to align, thus promoting inferences about non-obvious commonalities across distinct expressions of mental states, such as belief, desire, attention, and intention. A large body of research suggests that, in the realm of physical objects, infants use information provided in language to draw inferences about non-obvious commonalities. In the realm of mental states, language may function similarly to facilitate children's abstraction of mentalistic concepts. The chapter considers two different aspects of this process. First, it argues that language in general, used in conversation, is intricately linked to mentalistic concerns as it embodies communicative intent and intentional focus, taking into account and attempting to influence the beliefs and desires of the conversational participant. Second, mental terms may act as labels that invite recognition across different behaviors and situations, leading to the development of mentalistic concepts by the abstraction of commonalities across behaviors.

Keywords:   language, children, mentalistic concepts, mental states, analogical reasoning, inductive inference, non-obvious commonalities, beliefs, desires

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