A comparison of the pragmatic patterns in the spontaneous because- and if-sentences produced by children and their caregivers.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Findings from corpus (e.g. Diessel, 2004) and comprehension (e.g. De Ruiter, Theakston, Brandt, & Lieven, 2018) studies show that children produce the adverbial connectives because and if long before they seem able to understand them. However, although children’s comprehension is typically tested on sentences expressing the pragmatic relationship which Sweetser (1990) calls “Content”, children also hear and produce sentences expressing “Speech-Act” relationships (e.g. De Ruiter, Lemen, Lieven, Brandt & Theakston, 2021; Kyratzis, Guo, & Ervin-Tripp, 1990). To better understand the possible influence of pragmatic variation on 2- to 4-year-old children’s acquisition of these connectives, we coded the because and if Speech-Act sentences of 14 British English-speaking mother-child dyads for the type of illocutionary act they contained, as well as the phrasing following the connective. Analyses revealed that children’s because Speech-Act sentences were primarily explanations of Statements/Claims, while their if Speech-Act sentences typically related to permission and politeness. While children’s because-sentences showed a great deal of individuality, their if-sentences closely resembled their mothers’, containing a high proportion of recurring phrases which appear to be abstracted from input. We discuss how these patterns might help shape children’s understanding of each connective and contribute to the children’s overall difficulty with because and if.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-34
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue numberNovember 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2021