Young children's understanding of markedness in non-verbal communication

Kristin Liebal*, Malinda Carpenter, Michael Tomasello

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Speakers often anticipate how recipients will interpret their utterances. If they wish some other, less obvious interpretation, they may 'mark' their utterance (e. g. with special intonations or facial expressions). We investigated whether two-and three-year-olds recognize when adults mark a non-verbal communicative act - in this case a pointing gesture - as special, and so search for a not-so-obvious referent. We set up the context of cleaning up and then pointed to an object. Three-year-olds inferred that the adult intended the pointing gesture to indicate that object, and so cleaned it up. However, when the adult marked her pointing gesture (with exaggerated facial expression) they took the object's hidden contents or a hidden aspect of it as the intended referent. Two-year-olds' appreciation of such marking was less clear-cut. These results demonstrate that markedness is not just a linguistic phenomenon, but rather something concerning the pragmatics of intentional communication more generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-903
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of child language
Volume38
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011

Keywords

  • AMBIGUOUS REQUESTS
  • INFANTS USE
  • INFORMATION
  • CONTRAST
  • GESTURES
  • ACCENT
  • WORDS

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