Abstract and Belief-Based Language Differentiate Joking, Pretending, and Literal Toddler-Directed Speech


Twenty-two parents read a book containing joking, pretense, and literal pages to their 15- to 21-month-old toddlers. Parents differentiated joking from pretense book pages by using (1) more disbelief statements and humor-specific words, (2) fewer belief statements, and pretense-specific words. Parents differentiated joking from literal book pages by using more (1) high-level abstract language, (2) disbelief statements, and (3) humor-specific words. This study extends findings that abstract language cues non-literal concepts in general (e.g., metaphor, irony). This is also the first study to discover differences in cues to joking and pretense.

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