March 2014

Danielle Matthews has received an award of approximately £10k from the British Academy to find out...

What role does statistical learning play in children's pragmatic development?

Pragmatic language skills are strongly related to children’s social wellbeing and school readiness. This has led to calls for a better scientific understanding of their development. While research has established a role for social motivation and insight (i.e., the desire to engage with an interlocutor and the ability to take their perspective), pragmatic development cannot be entirely explained by variance in these factors. There is reason to think that statistical learning (the tracking of statistical regularities in one’s environment) is another essential dimension in choosing appropriate topics of conversation and talking about them informatively.

We will 1) develop a test of the relation between children’s choice of what to say and statistical measures of informativity; 2) assess the extent to which variance in children’s performance on this and standard pragmatic and formal language tests is explained by individual differences in (non-linguistic) statistical learning and social cognition; 3) explore whether language exposure explains additional variance in pragmatic ability.