Complex language, complex thought? The relation between children's production of double embeddings and Theory of Mind

Suzanne Bogaerds-Hazenberg, Petra Hendriks

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    It has been argued (e.g., by De Villiers and colleagues) that the acquisition of sentence embedding is necessary for the development of first-order Theory of Mind (ToM): the ability to attribute beliefs to others. This raises the question whether the acquisition of double embedded sentences is related to, and perhaps even necessary for, the development of second-order ToM: the ability to attribute beliefs about beliefs to others. This study tested 55 children (aged 7-10) on their ToM understanding in a false-belief task and on their elicited production of sentence embeddings. We found that second-order ToM passers produced mainly double embeddings, whereas first-order ToM passers produced mainly single embeddings. Furthermore, a better performance on second-order ToM predicted a higher rate of double embeddings and a lower rate of single embeddings in the production task. We conclude that children’s ability to produce double embeddings is related to their development of second-order ToM.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)28-40
    Number of pages13
    JournalLinguistics in the Netherlands
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Language acquisition, false-belief task, sentence embedding, Theory of Mind

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