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Psychology of Language and Communication

The Journal of University of Warsaw

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Young children's detection and decoding of ironic intonation

Catherine Rattray1 / Andrew Tolmie1

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow1

Institute of Education University of London2

This content is open access.

Citation Information: Psychology of Language and Communication. Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 29–54, ISSN (Print) 1234-2238, DOI: 10.2478/v10057-008-0002-1, August 2008

Publication History

Published Online:
2008-08-22

Young children's detection and decoding of ironic intonation

Two studies examined 3- and 4-year-olds' ability to follow the mental ‘sub-text’ of conversations employing ironic intonation. In Study 1, children were asked what a confederate thought was inside a tin, following an exchange in which she saw (joke conditions) or did not see (lie conditions) the contents (a stone) and heard these referred to in neutral or ironic tone as a cake. Study 2 repeated the joke conditions, with the confederate touching the stone. Amongst 4-year-olds, intonation was found to trigger complex assessment of the information available to the confederate, whilst 3-year-olds appeared confused. The data suggest that ability to track the belief implications of conversations is underpinned by substantial improvements in working memory between 3 and 4 years.

Keywords: intonation; irony; theory of mind; pragmatics; preschool children; conversational skill

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