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Social cognitive and later language acquisition

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Publication date1/09/2020
Host publicationCurrent Perspectives in Child Language Acquisition: How children use their environment to learn
EditorsCaroline F. Rowland, Anna L. Theakston, Ben Ambridge, Katherine E. Twomey
PublisherJohn Benjamins
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9789027261007
ISBN (Print)9789027207074
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameTrends in Language Acquisition Research


A great number of studies suggest that children’s acquisition of mental-state language supports, or even facilitates, their understanding of others’ mental states and perspectives. However, based on previous research, it has often been difficult to determine which aspects of mental-state language support this so-called Theory of Mind understanding. Whereas some researchers have argued that it is the semantics of mental verbs, such as think and know, others have suggested that it is the subordinate structure of complement-clause constructions, such as She thinks that the sticker is in the red box. In English, these two aspects are often confounded: mental verbs are typically used in complement-clause constructions. However, more recent studies have turned to languages such as Chinese and German, which allow us to distinguish between verbal semantics and syntactic constructions and also look at their interaction. Overall, these studies suggest that both semantics and syntax can play a role in children’s Theory of Mind development. In this chapter I also present some findings that indicate that whether or not the semantics of mental verbs supports children’s Theory of Mind development depends on how exactly they are used in complement-clause constructions. Since these usage patterns differ across languages, we can also see cross-linguistic differences in the interaction between verbal semantics, syntactic patterns and Theory of Mind development.