The pragmatic function of self/other reference in Mandarin child language

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This study investigated self/other reference in Mandarin child language by testing the hypothesis that children’s overt self/other reference is related to the pragmatic notion of social control (Budwig, 1989, 1990, 1995). The participants were two Mandarin-speaking children and their mothers. Natural mother–child conversations were video-recorded when the children were between the ages of 2;2 and 3;1. Each child and maternal utterance with an implicit or explicit self/other reference was categorized by function as either control act or assertive. The analysis showed that the children tended to use overt forms for self/other reference in control acts while using null forms in assertives. In contrast, the mothers’ speech did not reflect such a distinction. The results suggest that social control appears to be a salient notion to Mandarin-speaking children, and that the children organize their use of self/other reference forms around the pragmatic notion of social control.


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