Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1343–1368 | Cite as

Children’s Demonstrative Comprehension and the Role of Non-linguistic Cognitive Abilities: A Cross-Linguistic Study

  • Chia-Ying Chu
  • Utako MinaiEmail author


Previous studies have shown that young children often fail to comprehend demonstratives correctly when they are uttered by a speaker whose perspective is different from children’s own, and instead tend to interpret them with respect to their own perspective (e.g., Webb and Abrahamson in J Child Lang 3(3):349–367, 1976); Clark and Sengul in J Child Lang 5(3):457–475, 1978). In the current study, we examined children’s comprehension of demonstratives in English (this and that) and Mandarin Chinese (zhe and na) in order to test the hypothesis that children’s non-adult-like demonstrative comprehension is related to their still-developing non-linguistic cognitive abilities supporting perspective-taking, including Theory of Mind and Executive Function. Testing 3 to 6-year-old children on a set of demonstrative comprehension tasks and assessments of Theory of Mind and Executive Function, our findings revealed that children’s successful demonstrative comprehension is related to their development of Theory of Mind and Executive Function, for both of the language groups. These findings suggest that the development of deictic expressions like demonstratives may be related to the development of non-linguistic cognitive abilities, regardless of the language that the children are acquiring.


Demonstrative comprehension Theory of mind Executive function English Mandarin Chinese Preschool children 



We would like to thank Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele, Lamar Hunt III, and all the members of the Research in Acquisition and Processing Group at the University of Kansas for their discussions regarding the design of the study. Special thanks to Yu-Ping Hsu for drawing the pictures used in the Judgment Task and the DCCS, to Rachael Brown, Gretchen Hess, Adrienne M. Johnson and Yu-Li Chung for their help in data collection, and to Caitlin Coughlin for her help in analyzing the data. We would also like to express our gratitude to the children, parents and staff in the following preschools for their participation: Children’s Learning Center, Hilltop Child Development Center, Montessori Children’s House of Lawrence, and Stepping Stones, Inc., in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Concordia Middle School Preschool and Singang Township Preschool in Taiwan.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Speech and Hearing Science Research InstituteChildren’s Hearing FoundationTaipei CityTaiwan
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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