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Volume 2 Issue 1 (March 1999), Pages 1-113

Language and thought: the fundamental significance of conversational awareness for cognitive development (pages 1-14)

According to Piagetian accounts of cognitive development, children’s responses on many tasks reflect the lack of evidence for an operational competence that is conceptual rather than linguistic. In this paper, I show that such accounts assume that young children are endowed with substantial conversational wizardry, allowing them to interpret questions about cognitive tasks as intended by the experimenter. Once it is explicitly recognized that children may be less advanced in their conversational awareness than is commonly assumed, their competence can be assessed more accurately. Recent and new evidence from a variety of sources, such as research on conservation, suggestibility in memory, and theory of mind understanding in deaf and hearing children, converges to indicate that competence is inadequately characterized by a dichotomy between pre‐operational and operational logic and that what is developing in children’s cognition is a complex interplay between both conversational and conceptual processes. This evidence is not merely relevant to methodological concerns. It demands a radical shift in cognitive developmental theory and research to account for the importance of children’s conversational awareness.

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