The role of perceptual availability and discourse context in young children’s question answering
Three- and four-year-old children were asked predicate-focus questions (‘What’s X doing?’) about a scene in which an agent performed an action on a patient. We varied: (i) whether (or not) the preceding discourse context, which established the patient as given information, was available for the questioner; and (ii) whether (or not) the patient was perceptually available to the questioner when she asked the question. The main finding in our study differs from those of previous studies since it suggests that children are sensitive to the perceptual context at an earlier age than they are to previous discourse context if they need to take the questioner’s perspective into account. Our finding indicates that, while children are in principle sensitive to both factors, young children rely on perceptual availability when a conflict arises.
from the Journal of Child Language