"I Can't Talk, I'm Dead": Preschoolers' Spontaneous Metapragmatic Comments

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Children's pragmatic development can be revealed in both their use of pragmatic skills and their metapragmatic comments. Six families with preschoolers (mean age: 3 years, 3 months) were observed in unstructured, conversational interactions for about a year. Conversations were transcribed, and 65 instances of spontaneous metapragmatic comments were identified. Five types of comments were observed: comments about other people's pragmatic errors, comments and questions about pragmatic rules, comments to regulate and maintain the conversation, self‐promptings of pragmatic behaviors, and accounts for pragmatic errors by reference to conflicting pragmatic rules. These comments make it clear that preschoolers can not only work to make conversations smoother and more effective, but also take an active role in testing and expanding their pragmatic understanding. The comments also reflect more sophisticated pragmatic knowledge than laboratory studies have revealed.

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Discourse Processes, v. 11, issue 4, p. 457-467