Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph Glick

Committee Members

Katherine Nelson

Lindsey Churchill

John Dore

Keith E. Nelson

Subject Categories



The relationships between three models for describing pragmatic response to utterances were surveyed and the application of these models to young children's response patterns evaluated. Of particular interest was how children might discriminate action-directive and information-testing usage of language.

In order to empirically test the validity of these models, sixteen one- and two-year-old children were visited in their homes. Each child participated in two video recorded play sessions with an experimenter, during which he or she was asked complex What-questions that could take either informational or action responses. Gestural accompaniments and preceding discourse were systematically varied in Experiment I. Each child was also given the opportunity to respond to routine directive and testing speech forms. In Experiment II, the experimenter asked the What-questions while the child was looking at irrelevant toys and again while the child was looking at relevant pictures.

In Experiment I, children responded appropriately to the routine speech forms, but treated complex What-questions as ambiguous. Of special interest, children often responded with answers which combined informational and directive interpretations.

Some aspects of context also affected responses to complex What-questions. The presence of a gesture prompted responses which tend towards nonverbal expression (orienting, acting). The toy activity in which a child was engaged affected the rate of action responding, but did not affect other aspects of response. The pragmatic function of the discourse preceding target questions had no effect on children's responses.

Two-year-olds gave more responses that combined or conflated action and informing, and gave more simultaneous response combinations, than did one-year-olds. Two-year-olds, but not one-year-olds, responded to the presence of a gesture by doubling their base rate of responses which contain both action and informing. The linguistic sophistication of the child appeared to be less strongly related to response than was chronological age.

These results indicate an early sensitivity to wording, and an increasing ability to integrate linguistic and nonlinguistic sources of information. Overall, the results support a model in which children are sensitive to both pragmatic structures and communicative cues.


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