Referential description by children in negative form

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Abstract

Previous experiments indicate that young children have difficulty in describing referents in negative terms. It is suggested that use of negation is unnatural (and therefore difficult) in many descriptive tasks because children tend to focus their attention on referent and to ignore immediate perceptual context. Additionally, negative descriptions are more natural where a referent lacks some feature of a contrasting item in context, than where it differs from it along some attribute dimension.

In a small experiment normal and educationally subnormal children with mental ages from 5 to 7 years were found to have no difficulty in making negative referential descriptions in natural contexts, when their attention was drawn to context by experimenter. degree to which children's descriptions reflected awareness of context was related to their mental maturity, and there was a developmental trend in form of descriptions.

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