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Learning to do things with words

By Richard Thomas Moore


Around the age of fourteen months, infants start to use and understand others' uses of\ud words in communicative interaction. What cognitive abilities must one attribute to them in\ud order to explain this?\ud In this thesis, I set out a variety of features – including knowledge of reference, of (Gricelike)\ud communicative intentions, and of (Lewis-like) linguistic conventions - of which one\ud would need some grasp in order to be able to use and understand words in communicative\ud interaction. I develop an account of the cognitive abilities that grasping such features would\ud require, and defend the plausibility of attributing such abilities to infants around the\ud beginning of their second year of life. I argue that prior to their first uses of words, infants\ud already have some grasp of others' minds – in particular, of when others are trying to\ud communicate with them, and of what it is that they are trying to communicate. On the\ud account that I sketch, infants learn how to use and understand words because they grasp\ud the ends to which those words can be used as means, and because they are able to imitate\ud the purposive communicative actions of their caregivers, and thereby produce utterances of\ud their own

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