The development of speech acts

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Children, like adults, use language to get things done. However, gaining an accurate picture of children’s development of communicative intent is challenging. While the behaviours used by children to express intent are external and thus to some degree measurable, the underlying psychological characterisation of intent is much more elusive. Speech act analysis involves identifying the goal behind a speaker’s utterance, gesture or sign, and provides a useful starting point for the analysis of communicative intent during both the pre-linguistic and linguistic stage. In the current chapter we begin by discussing the origins of Speech Act Theory and its relevance to child language development. We then discuss the emergence of speech acts in the language of young children, and also the relationship between form and function from a Speech Act perspective.


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