University of Maryland
Knowledge of clause type-speech act mappings in preschoolers and infants
Languages tend to have three basic clause types (declarative, interrogative, imperative) that are canonically associated with three basic communicative functions (assertion, question, request). And yet, the specific forms used to express each function vary from language to language. This means that whatever language each child is learning, they must distinguish the different clause types from one another, as well as identify their canonical speech acts. Moreover, children must disentangle the canonical functions of each clause type from non-canonical uses, like interrogative requests and rising declarative questions. Figuring out how children develop these linguistic capacities requires that we first answer empirical questions about when they do so. In this talk I will discuss two experiments addressing this question (joint work with Valentine Hacquard, Jeffrey Lidz, and Jad Wehbe). The first focuses on rising declaratives, demonstrating preschoolers’ ability to infer the force of speakers’ intended speech acts when they don’t match the clause type uttered. The second, ongoing experiment provides preliminary data (n = 22, target n = 40) suggesting that 18-month-olds know that rising polar interrogatives are linked to questions while falling declaratives are linked to assertions.