Brown Bag du 12/06/17 à 11h30 Nausicaa Pouscoulous UCL



What’s the problem with preschool pragmatics?

Recent developmental research on social cognition indicates that pragmatics

play a grounding role in the development of childrens communicative skills even

before they utter their first words. Much evidence in language acquisition also

suggests that young children could not learn to speak without impressive pragmatic

abilities. In stark contrast with this picture, linguistic pragmatic inferences (e.g.,

reference assignment, implicatures, metaphors, presuppositions and irony) appear to

develop later than other linguistic abilities.

Pragmatic inferences, such as those involved in understanding implicit and non-

literal meaning, require the ability to recognise communicative intentions, as well as

to take into account common ground (or mutual knowledge). Empirical findings

suggest that prelinguistic children already master these skills. Words and syntax, it

seems, are all there is left to learn for children to become perfect little ‘Gricean’

comprehenders. What, then, makes linguistic pragmatic phenomena so difficult to

grasp for preschoolers?

This talk tries to reconcile the development of pre-linguistic and linguistic

pragmatic abilities by presenting data on three phenomena: scalar implicatures,

presupposition and metaphor. I will discuss evidence showing these phenomena might

be understood much earlier than prior results suggest, and that several factors –

independently of children’s pragmatic abilities per se – may explain children’s

apparent struggle with pragmatic inferences.