How to talk with children

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It is generally assumed that adults learn how to talk with children in a special style called child-directed speech. But this cannot be the whole story. Each child’s ability to speak and understand is a moving target, changing yearly, weekly, even daily. How could adults adapt to these changes? Evidence shows that in conversation both adults and children try to establish, as they go along, the mutual belief that they have understood each other well enough for current purposes. It is this process, called grounding, that allows adults to infer the child’s current abilities and to adapt their speech to that child. Adults, then, learn how to talk with children in the very act of talking with them.


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