Children's use of referring expressions in spontaneous discourse: Implications for theory of mind development

Jeanette K Gundel, Kaitlin Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper refines and extends the empirical base of previous work on children's use of referring expressions in spontaneous discourse within the Givenness Hierarchy framework, and further develops implications of this work for our understanding of the development of a theory of mind. The study supports earlier findings that children use definite and indefinite articles, demonstrative determiners, and demonstrative and personal pronouns appropriately by age 3 or earlier. It also provides further support for two stages in mind-reading ability. The first, implicit and non-representational, includes the ability to assess memory and attention states such as familiarity and attention; the second, representational and more conscious, includes the ability to assess propositional, epistemic states such as knowledge and belief. Distinguishing the two stages provides a possible explanation for why children learn to use forms in ways consistent with their encoded information about how to mentally access an intended referent before they fully exhibit the metarepresentational ability to calculate pragmatic inferences, such as that involved in assessing how much information is relevant for the addressee.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-57
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cognitive status
  • Implicature
  • Procedural meaning
  • Reference
  • Theory of mind

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