British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 36 Issue 4 (November 2018), Pages i-iv, 521-678

Preschoolers’ knowledge about language‐specific properties of writing (pages 667-672)

According to the differentiation hypothesis, young children's attempts to write show characteristics common to all writing systems, such as linearity. Characteristics that are specific to the writing system of the child's culture emerge only later. We tested this hypothesis by presenting adults who knew both Chinese and English with written productions of Chinese and United States 2‐ to 5‐year‐olds and asking them to judge the nationality of the writer. Adults performed significantly above the level expected by chance even with the productions of 2‐ and 3‐year‐olds, suggesting that knowledge of language‐specific characteristics emerges earlier than previously thought. Children appeared to show more language‐specific characteristics in their names than in other writings, for adults performed better with children's names than with other items.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Children's early attempts to write may show general properties of writing, such as linearity.
  • Knowledge of language‐specific features is thought to develop later.

What does this study adds?

  • Adults judged whether a writer was an United States or a Chinese child.
  • Adults performed above the level of chance even with the productions of 2‐ and 3‐year‐olds.
  • Children begin to learn about language‐specific features earlier than previously thought.

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