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Programme

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Time and place: September 2nd & 3rd, 2011, seminar room 652, Georg Morgenstiernes hus, Oslo University's Blindern campus

Friday, 2nd September 2011

9:15 · Welcome – opening words

9:30 – 11.00 Ulf Liszkowski

Usage-based ‘theory-of-mind’ and its social emergence in infancy

11:00 – 11.30 Coffee

11:30 – 13.00 Martin Doherty

The generality of metarepresentational development, and its relation to theory of mind and language use

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 15:30 Erika Nurmsoo

Children’s use of others as sources of information

15:30 – 16:00 Tea

16:00 – 17:30 Tomoko Matsui

Children’s understanding of the speaker as the source of knowledge

Saturday, 3rd September 2011

9:30 – 11.00 Eva Filippova

Understanding discourse irony: the development of social-cognitive and pragmatic skills at interpreting indirect communication

11:00 – 11.30 Coffee

11:30 – 13.00 Olivier Mascaro

The development of the sense of deceit

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 15:30 Hanna Marno

How do we learn about objects in the context of communication?

15:30 – 16:00 Tea

16:00 – 17:30 Paula Rubio-Fernandez

The scaffolding of metaphor

Abstracts

Ulf Liszkowski, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
Usage-based 'Theory-of-Mind' and its social emergence in infancy

The classic study of Theory of Mind (ToM) started with non-human primates devoid of language to express thoughts and feelings. This talk picks up on the question of non-linguistic ToM, focusing on human infants before they have acquired a language to talk about their minds. Three new behavioral studies are presented which reveal that prelinguistic infants in their second year of life take others' mental goal and reality representations into consideration when providing information for others through pointing gestures. Study 1 shows that 18- to 24-month-olds selectively correct an actor in anticipation of her committing an action mistake when she mistakenly believes an object to be in one of several locations and wants to retrieve it. Study 2 shows that 12- and 18-month-olds selectively warn an actor when she is mistaken about the location of an aversive object and wants to avoid it. Study 3 combines the two previous paradigms and shows that 18-month-olds expect an actor to approach one of two locations depending on her belief about a desired object's location, and they inform her selectively about aversive objects that are hidden in that particular (but not the other) location. The three studies demonstrate infants' predictive usage of ToM for communication in the specific case of proactive helpful informing.

In the remainder of the talk, I will address the socio-cultural origins of pre-linguistic communication skills as the cradle of social-cognitive development.

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Martin Doherty, University of Stirling
The generality of metarepresentational development, and its relation to theory of mind and language use

Children pass traditional theory of mind tasks around the age of four. This marks the acquisition of explicit mental metarepresentation, defined as the capacity to reflect on beliefs and other mental states, and their relationship to perception and action. Interesting remaining questions include how to characterise the four year old development, and whether children have metarepresentational capacity prior to this age. I will report studies examining explicit non-mental metarepresentation. Linguistic metarepresentation corresponds to metalinguistic awareness, the ability to reflect on language. The Alternative Naming Task poses similar demands to the False Belief task in the linguistic domain: given one word for a referent (e.g., ‘rabbit’), children are asked to produce another (e.g., ‘bunny’, or ‘animal’). The ability to do this is specifically related to success on the false belief task, and remains so when age, verbal mental age, and performance on tests of executive function are taken into account.

Similar associations have been found with tests of understanding of homonymy, in which children have to select the two distinct referents of a given word (e.g. ‘bat’: sports equipment or flying mammal). Furthermore, the pictorial analogue of homonymy is the phenomenon of ambiguous figures, pictures which have two distinct interpretations, such as the well-known duck-rabbit. Children become able to acknowledge both interpretations at the same time they pass tests of homonymy, alternative naming and false belief understanding.

These findings suggest that children develop a general metarepresentational capacity at around four years. This poses the question of how to characterise earlier social and linguistic abilities, which may be specific to understanding aspects of mental states (or the consequences thereof). I will finish by considering the hypothesised mutual exclusivity bias of word learning, which proposes that children assume word extensions do not overlap. The argument will be that, in order to avoid confusion, the language system has built into it pragmatic constraints that do not permit different labels for a given referent in a given conversation. These constraints are implicit, and therefore do not require explicit metarepresentational ability. However, this is required to overcome them. Evidence to support this claim will be presented in the disambiguation paradigm, the most heavily researched mutual exclusivity task.

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Erika Nurmsoo, University of Kent
Children’s use of others as sources of information

The ability to learn from others allows children to gain information, and supports the transmission of cultural knowledge across generations. As others may be flawed, children have strategies that increase their likelihood of learning reliable information, such as rejecting previously inaccurate speakers. Most of the research investigating these questions has used a single paradigm, pitting two speakers against one another. However, recent findings using other tasks suggest that children may use different strategies depending on the nature of the information to be learned, or on the conditions under which the information is elicited. To explore the question of how children judge others as potential sources of information, I will examine children’s behaviour under broader conditions, including when potential sources differ in their knowledge access, when speakers’ errors can be reasonably forgiven, and when children can actively ask questions to elicit information. Integrating across these findings, I will argue that children’s understanding of the knowledge of others is more sophisticated than it may appear on the basis of the commonly used paradigm.

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Tomoko Matsui, Tokyo Gakugei University, Japan
Children’s understanding of the speaker as the source of knowledge

Verbal communication is generally acknowledged to be a highly unreliable source of knowledge, and a mechanism to deal with testimony (by checking coherence and evidential quality, for example) would appear to be a necessary element in our cognitive system (Harris 2007; Perner 1991; Sperber 1996). In this talk, I will discuss the issue of how children’s developing ability to assess the trustworthiness of communicated information relates to their understanding of the quality of speaker knowledge (e.g. certainty and knowledge source) from the perspective of developmental pragmatics. To date, the mainstream assumption is that the ability to understand sources of knowledge is a part of a general mind-reading capacity (Gopnik & Graf 1988; Robinson & Whitcombe 2003). Acquisition of linguistic expressions indicating epistemic states and knowledge sources are also considered to relate closely to children’s understanding of first-order beliefs (Bartsch & Wellman 1995; Moore et al. 1991). Hence, the expectation has been that, at around 4 years of age, children not only pass standard false belief tasks but also acquire an ability to understand the quality of speaker knowledge. Several studies have demonstrated, however, that children begin to understand contrastive propositional attitudes of certainty and uncertainty, expressed overtly, well before they pass standard false belief tasks (Birch et al. 2010; Matsui et al. 2006; Miura & Matsui 2010; Sabbagh & Baldwin 2001). Children’s understanding of evidentiality, i.e. the linguistic expression of knowledge sources such as perception and hearsay, on the other hand, was found to develop much later, between 6 and 8 years of age (Fitneva & Matsui 2009). These findings indicate that the connection between first-order belief understanding and the quality of speaker knowledge, including certainty and evidentiality, is weak at best.

Two further findings are of importance in understanding the connection between a general mind-reading capacity and the ability to recognize speaker knowledge. First, children’s understanding of neither certainty nor evidentiality was found to correlate with their understanding of first-order false belief (Matsui et al. 2006; Ögel-Balaban et al. 2011). Second, despite the above finding, use of the certainty marker to express the speaker’s false belief clearly heightened 3-year-olds’ awareness and understanding of the false belief (Matsui et al. 2009). I will argue that these findings pose a difficulty for classic theory-of-mind accounts of children’s understanding of speaker knowledge, and suggest that evaluating the speaker as their source of knowledge may require a separate metarepresentational ability that may interact fruitfully with other metarepresentational abilities, including theory of mind.

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Eva Filippova, Charles University Prague
Understanding discourse irony: The development of social-cognitive and pragmatic skills at interpreting indirect communication

In the field of theory of mind (ToM), there is a general consensus that children’s developing ability to “read” other people’s minds come about at the age of 4-5 years. This conceptual milestone is believed to be achieved when children pass the standard “false-belief” task - a task assessing their ability to make inferences about mental states to predict other people’s behavior. Children passing the task are claimed to understand that the world is represented in the mind and that people’s actions, including speech, are based on their mental representation of the world, even if it includes misrepresentation of the actual facts in the world (i.e., false belief). Those who pass the task are thus capable of “meta-representation” in that, on top of representing a given situation in the world, they can also represent their own and another person’s different relationships to the actual state of affairs (Perner, 1991). Yet, even in their early school years, children still fail to interpret the communicative intentions of a speaker who does not speak literally. Tracing the development of the understanding discourse irony is the general aim of the talk.

More specifically, the talk will consider the different cognitive and pragmatic constraints on children’s developing understanding of discourse irony. On one hand, I will present research on the social-cognitive (i.e., ToM) abilities necessary for an accurate interpretation of a speaker’s mind. On the other hand, I will consider findings on aspects of the pragmatic function of irony in discourse. By assuming both perspectives on the methodologies used and conclusions drawn by researchers from different fields of expertise, I will reevaluate the different claims made about the development of discourse-irony understanding. Doing so will help in the subsequent reexamination of existing communication theories.

Differences have been pointed out between intuitive and reflective processes involved in understanding discourse irony. While children’s skills in the former are well developed by the early school years, more sophisticatd skills in the latter continue to develop well into adulthood (Filippova & Astington, 2010). The paper will review the diverse constraints on irony understanding and discuss the various theoretical implications.

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Olivier Mascaro, Central European University, Budapest
The development of the sense of deceit

In this paper, I will try to explain the discrepancy between young children’s remarkable communicative abilities, and their relative difficulty in handling lies. I will review evidence showing surprising cognitive capacities that should help two- and three-year-olds to lie: capacities to manipulate beliefs, understanding of falsity, ability to manipulate others with inaccurate messages. In spite of all this, I will suggest that three-year-olds are little more than opportunity liars: they do not seize the occasion to deceive others, unless prompted to do so by social circumstances. Children’s tendency to frame communication as informative and helpful expresses itself in a creative way - in particular, leading children to correct their memory of past utterances, or to reinterpret unfamiliar symbols. Young children, I will suggest, are thus competent communicators, but at the same time, they are genuinely honest, and trustful.

In the second part of the paper, I will attempt to characterize what drives the development of children’s deceptive abilities in the preschool years. Having rejected interpretations in terms of theory of mind development, I will defend a hypothesis according to which the emergence of lies around 4 years is linked to the rise of a new sense of deceit. Lying, which so far had been nothing but a capacity, becomes a matter of strategic concern. The new social environment into which children of this age are plunged - having to live and interact with their peers - might help explain this change.

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Hanna Marno, Central European University, Budapest
How do we learn about objects in the context of communication?

Humans, uniquely among animals, learn from each other by receiving semantic information via communication. It has been hypothesized that the emergence of this ability is supported by perceptual biases in learning that would make people more likely to extract semantically relevant features of a scene in a communicative context. According to this hypothesis, when people observe an object in an ambiguous communicative context, they would be biased to encode the permanent features of the object, such as its colour or shape, at the expense of its transient features, such as its location. Although experimental evidence with young infants corroborated this proposal, it has been unclear whether the same tendency still exists in adults. I will present a series of studies that provides evidence that, similarly to infants, adults have a tendency to preferentially encode permanent features of objects in communicative contexts. By using a change detection paradigm, our first series of studies focused on immediate perceptual coding. We found that people more likely detect changes of identity than changes of location of objects when the objects are presented in the context of communication. Our second series of studies tested the long-term effect of communicative cues on memory representations. By using a recall task, we found that subjects memorised and recalled the permanent features of objects more reliably in situations where the objects were encountered in a communicative context. Together these studies shed new light on the complex interaction between communication and learning in humans.

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Paula Rubio-Fernández. University College London
The scaffolding of metaphor

Our understanding of children’s metaphorical abilities has fundamentally changed since research in this area started in the 70’s. While the early studies concluded that children were unable to understand metaphors until middle or even late childhood, the use of new methodologies during the next decade allowed children as young as 4 to reveal early figurative language skills. Research efforts changed again in the 90’s, when studies broadened in scope and tried to identify different levels of metaphor comprehension as well as the cognitive underpinnings of this early ability. Following the latter trend, in this paper I will assume that metaphor is an early-emerging skill and concentrate on various issues rising from the adult metaphor literature that might help us characterize young children’s abilities with figurative language.

I will start by discussing the differences and commonalities between figurative similes and nominal metaphors (e.g. Mary is like a block of ice vs. Mary is a block of ice) and how they bear on children’s abilities to identify and express similarities early in their language development. I will then focus on nominal metaphors as categorization statements that involve the construction of a new, ad hoc concept (compare in this respect ‘An iceberg is a block of ice’ vs. ‘Mary is a block of ice’; Glucksberg & Keysar, 1993; Carston, 2002; Sperber & Wilson, 2008). I will discuss in this context children’s abilities with dual reference; namely the property of the metaphor vehicle by which it may be used to express the literal concept (i.e. to refer to blocks of ice) or an ad hoc concept (i.e. to refer to cold, insensitive people). Finally, I will present the results of two experiments, one investigating 3 year-old children’s comprehension of spatial analogies, and another one investigating children’s comprehension of figurative similes and nominal metaphors between 3 and 6 years of age in relation to a 12 year-old control group. The results reveal a U-shaped development of children’s metaphorical abilities, which I interpret in terms of changes in meaning conventionality.

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