The understanding of implied meaning in monolingual and bilingual children

Kenah Rey Linger, University of Texas at El Paso


The development of pragmatic language and how it is treated cognitively in monolingual and bilingual speakers is a topic of debate. Language pragmatic skills can include: knowing that you have to answer a question that is being asked, being able to participate in conversation by taking turns, and the ability to maintain a topic. Furthermore, the study of pragmatics has also focused on understanding how we comprehend language that is not explicit. For example, comprehending the sentence,” We’d love to have you over for dinner” involves deciding whether this is an invitation, a statement of desire, or even an empty social nicety (Ylvisaker, 2008). Previous research that explored the understanding of implied meaning in conversations has found that children have difficulties interpreting certain pragmatic elements in language, such as implied meaning (Speer & Ito, 2009). Based on these findings, researchers have hypothesized that general cognitive abilities such as working memory and inhibition may play a role in how early children are able to interpret pragmatic language (Speer & Ito, 2009). The present research looks at prosody and how it is acquired and used in preschool-aged monolingual and bilingual children. Prosody aids to the literal interpretation of speech because it enunciates on the pronunciation of the utterance. Previous work has found that young children, age 4 and below, have a difficult time drawing inference from prosodic elements in speech utterances. By using a sentence comprehension test that manipulates prosody, the present study tests if preschool-aged bilingual children comprehend the implications of sentences more accurately than monolingual peers. We hypothesize that because of earlier pragmatic development observed in previous studies (e.g., Siegal, M., Iozzi, L. and Surian, L. 2009; Yow & Markman, 2011), bilingualism may give young speakers an advantage in interpreting the implications of pragmatic development in speech. Additionally, in the present study we look at nonlinguistic factors, such as working memory and inhibition, to observe if there is a correlation between cognitive function and pragmatic development in monolingual and bilingual children.

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Recommended Citation

Linger, Kenah Rey, "The understanding of implied meaning in monolingual and bilingual children" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10118810.