It has been argued in the preceding chapter that there are limitations to the information available from an analysis of the relative frequency of occurrence of unestablished referent in different diagnostic groups.

Qualitative analysis is needed, not only to determine how instances of failure to establish referent arise but also to examine the nature, and the degree of inappropriateness, of their communicative effect. Such an analysis cannot be made only in relation to the profile of skills of an individual speaker but must be situated within the context of the conversational exchange. The communicative effectiveness of a conversation is jointly constructed by the participants. Compensatory strategies, or the lack of them, from the conversational partner of a child with language difficulties are likely to influence the extent to which the communicative exchange is impaired. (McTear & Conti-Ramsden, 1989).

It has also been argued above (1.5.2) that Prutting's Pragmatic Protocol (Prutting & Kirchner, 1987), a descriptive taxonomy of the parameters of pragmatics, provides a framework within which the nature of pragmatic deficits can be analysed by means of detailed examination of transcribed conversations.

The generalised terms in which the individual parameters of Pragmatic Protocol are presented does, however, restrict its usefulness when undertaking an in-depth pragmatic analysis of specific conversations. Adams and Bishop (1989) consider that the Pragmatic Protocol provides "insufficient detail" (p. 212) and McTear and Conti-Ramsden (1989) describe it as a check-list, the function of which is "to count frequencies of behaviours" (p.159). They take the view that it is thus subject to the limitations involved in recording frequency alone, which have been discussed above (3.6.3). Prutting and Kirchner (1987) themselves state that, once pragmatic deficits on particular parameters have been identified by means of the Protocol, a detailed assessment of these parameters must then be carried out. They give little indication of the form which this detailed assessment should take, recommending only that a more comprehensive count should be undertaken of the frequency with which the deficit occurs.


The present study aims to address the need for detailed assessment of a particular pragmatic parameter, the establishment of referent. Taking Prutting's Pragmatic Protocol as a model, the author has devised a Protocol for the Establishment of Referent. The Protocol for the Establishment of Referent is designed for use in qualitative analysis, and as a potential assessment tool.

The function of a protocol of this kind is to give a comprehensive overview of the principles of classification within a particular area of competence. Items within that area, in this case instances of failure to establish referent, can be placed within this system of classification and are thereby related both to each other and to the area of competence as a whole. A protocol of this kind therefore provides not a method of analysis, but a framework for analysis.

Prutting and Kirchner (1987) discuss the properties which should characterise an effective protocol or overall communicative index. As well as being comprehensive and well-motivated by the research literature, the parameters of such a protocol should be mutually exclusive and should relate in a consistent way to each other and to the area of competence concerned. Such a protocol should also enable useful evaluation to be carried out of each of its parameters in a sample of conversational speech.

The Protocol for the Establishment of Referent, which has as its basis the research literature reviewed in Chapter 2. is outlined in Table 8. The construction of the Protocol was also influenced by the author's knowledge of the conversations of pragmatically impaired children, transcribed and analysed during ten years of clinical experience in this area.

The section of the Protocol for the Establishment of Referent which deals with the establishment of given' referents is derived from the Halliday and Hasan's work on cohesion (Hasan, 1984; Halliday & Hasan, 1976, 1989) and the headings A to F in the categorisation of referring expressions (see Table 8) are taken from their list of devices involving grammatical cohesion. These devices, as discussed in 2.3.1 above, are used to refer back to entities whose identity is already established between conversational partners. They thus serve a dual role. They function firstly as cohesive ties, bringing about a continuity of reference in the discourse, and secondly as referring expressions, specifying referent for the conversational partner(s). Liles (1985) points out that the detailed analysis of Halliday and Hasan is concerned with the first of these two functions and not with the second, for which Liles uses the term 'cohesive adequacy'.

In contrast with sections A to F, the types of referring expression covered by the headings G to J in this Protocol (see Table 8) do not directly overlap with the area of cohesion, since they are concerned with the introduction of new referents into the discourse.

The Protocol for the Establishment of Referent, shown in Table 8, forms part of an assessment procedure which includes a strategy for identifying instances of the failure to establish referent. This procedure is given in full in Appendix E.

The detailed examination of transcripts which follows aims to demonstrate the utility of the Protocol for Unestablished Referent in analysing instances of failure to establish referent, both in relation to the conversations in which they occur and in relation to the contributions of the individual participants. It will be argued that such an analysis can provide information about the nature of this pragmatic deficit, and about its relationship to other areas of pragmatic competence and to children's developing linguistic and cognitive abilities. For ease of reference, and to avoid confusion with the Pragmatic Protocol on which it is modelled, the Protocol for the Establishment of Referent will henceforward be referred to as the P.E.R..

The P.E.R. will be used as the framework for an analysis of the instances of unestablished referent in the conversations of each of the five children in the language-impaired group in the study. The general utilisation of each of the parameters of the P.E.R. in the conversations of these children, and of those in the two control groups, is then examined. In conclusion this analysis is used as the basis for a discussion of the problems which the language impaired children encountered with the establishment of referent, and of any ways in which these appear to differ from those encountered in the course of normal development. The implications of these findings for therapy are then discussed.

The 15 transcripts made for the study are given in full in Appendix C. By making reference to these, the short quotations given in the main text can be placed within their full conversational context. The thirty children taking part in the study are identified by initials which indicate the category into which they fall. The communicatively impaired group are identified as A, B, C, D and E, and the peers who acted as their conversational partners are identified as AF, BF, CF, DF and EF. The age matched controls and their friends are referred to as AO, AOF etc. and the comprehension matched controls as AY, AYF etc. These initials have also been substituted for the children's first names in the actual text of the transcripts. The investigator is identified in the transcripts as ANN and will be referred to in discussion as 'the adult'.


Protocol for the Establishment of Referent (P.E.R.)

A. Pronominal

B. Demonstrative

C. Definite Article

D. Comparison

Referring expressions in groups A-D (identity of reference) are further categorised as:

Exophoric (reference to physical context) / General phoric (reference to social context) / Endophoric (reference to linguistic context) / or as examples of Discourse Deixis.

E. Substitution

F. Ellipsis

G. Lexical Item: a) meaning not understood b) inappropriate degree of specificity.

H. Identifying features: a) attributes b) locating devices c) literal comparisons d) other.

I. Adverbial of time.

J. Non-literal. (Includes metaphor, teasing, irony.)

K. Other.

In addition, for each referring expression the following questions are asked:

a. What is the entity referred to (state if guess only) and what type of entity is it? (person, object, location, time, action, idea, attribute etc.)

b. Clarification requested? Clarification attempted? Clarification successful?

The instances of unestablished referent recorded for the frequency count in this study are those which occurred when one of the subjects was speaker. However in the analysis which follows some comment is also made on instances of unestablished referent which occurred when one of the subjects was the addressee.


4.3.1 CHILD A.

A, a boy of 4;9, was reported to be often inappropriate in his conversational interaction, although advanced in some academic areas such as writing. As was the case with two other members of the comunicatively impaired group, his mother expressed concern that A. had no friend to share the videoed session with him. Another pupil at his pre-school, a girl of 6;0, was selected and the two children were videoed at the school, as it was felt they would be more at ease in a familiar environment.

Extract from transcript.

100*ANN: . . . I'm not going to let him go outside without a hat. can you two help him? 101*AF-: yes.
102*ANN: what can you do about a hat?
103*A--: dum. the hat's inside.
   %add: ANN
   %com: unestablished referent: inside

Categorisation and Comment

inside (Turn 103) Category: H(b) (locating device) Entity referred to: location. Insufficiently specific for context.

Turn 103 is addressed to the adult who already knows the location of the hat (which is hidden behind a blackboard in the room). However she is left in uncertainty about what A intends to convey by 'inside'. Possibly it is that the hat is indoors as opposed to outdoors (which would be consistent with the adult's use of 'outside' in turn 100), but this information does not seem relevant. It seems more feasible that A intends to convey 'in this room'. The term 'inside' is thus confusingly imprecise.

Extract from Transcript

118*ANN: yeah. it's lovely out in your pre-school garden, isn't it?
119*A--: pre-school garden!
   %par: surprised
120*ANN: mhmm.
121*A--: there butcher here. where's that butcher?
   %com: unestablished referents: <1u> butcher, here <2u> butcher
122*ANN: a what?
123*A--: where's butcher?
   %com: unestablished referent: butcher
   %par: smiles
124*ANN: a butcher?
125*A--: butcher's outside.
   %com: unestablished referent: butcher

Categorisation and Comment

here (Turn 121). Category B (Demonstrative). Entity referred to: location. Insufficient degree of specificity.

In the context of the referring expression 'butcher' which is not understood, 'here' could refer to a number of alternative locations (for example the pre-school as a whole, the room the speakers are in, outside the window.) A's failure to mark tense adds to the confusion. A's omission of either 'a' or 'the' before 'butcher' also contributes to the confusion of the addressee, who without the article, has no way of knowing whether A is referring to a given referent or to a new one. A appears to have considerable difficulty with the use of articles, although it does appear that he has grasped that 'the' can function to indicate that a referent is already 'given' for an addressee. (See Turn 032.) His most frequent tactic is to omit the article entirely. While not directly responsible for any instances of unestablished referent, this omission contributes at times to a difficulty in following A's line of thinking.

butcher...butcher (Turn 121). Category G(a) Lexical Item: meaning not understood). Entity referred to (guess only): a person, fitting one of the dictionary definitions of butcher, or possibly a butcher bird. The addressee cannot identify the referent for 'butcher'. Request for clarification made but repair not attempted.

butcher (Turn 123) Category G(a) (Lexical Item: meaning not understood.) A again uses the term 'butcher' without attempting the requested repair. The addressee again requests clarification. Repair possibly attempted (see comment on turn 127.)

butcher (Turn 125) Category G(a) (Lexical Item: meaning not understood.) In saying 'butcher's outside' A. is possibly attempting a repair. Within the context of the conversation, it has already been established that outside' refers to the play area outside the window. However as nothing to which 'butcher' could apply can be seen outside, the referent remains unestablished.

The possibility that A's use of 'butcher' was an instance of failure in presupposition was checked by having his mother and teachers view the video. They could not think of any referent to which A could be referring.

Extract from Transcript

138*A--: oh, there he are! there he is"! xxx.
   %act: <3u> puts the hat back on Louie
139*AF-: he could need a little one.
140*A--: a [#] what?
141*AF-: a little one for him.
142*A--: a little one.
   %act: goes to the side of the blackboard and looks behind it
143*AF-: a little one.
144*ANN: a little one. yes it is a bit big, isn't it?
145*A--: is there <wheel> [/] wheel here? is there wheel?
   %com: unestablished referents: <2u> wheel <2u> wheel
146*ANN: sorry? is what here?
147*A--: O.
  %act: goes over to a chair, sits down and starts to put the hat on Louie

Categorisation and Comment

wheel...wheel (Turn 145). Category G(a) (Lexical Item: meaning not understood.) Entity referred to (guess only): object; presumably a wheel of some type. Request for clarification made but repair not attempted.

Since wheels appear to be completely irrelevant to the current topic (finding the puppet a suitable hat) or to anything else in the conversation, it is possible that the referent is some other object, which A has named incorrectly or mispronounced. The location in which A is searching for the referent ('here' in turn 145) can be identified as the area behind the blackboard and nearby, which he has gone to and looked around in response to AF's "he could need a little one" in turn 139. It is possible that A does not understood the referent of "a little one" (i.e. a hat) for which he requests clarification in turn 140.

The difficulty in interpreting A's above referring expressions results either from their insufficient degree of specificity, or from their apparent irrelevance within the context of the conversation.

An interesting example of a failure by AF to establish referent for A occurs in the following exchange.

152*ANN: well, do you think he could go on the swing now, then?
153*AF-: yes. yes. yes.
154*ANN: mhmm. yes. I don t see why not. he's got to wear a hat though, hasn't he?
155*A--: yes that's got to wear hat outside now.
156*ANN: yes.
157*AF-: no. it's in the shade. it's in the shade.
   %gpx: points out of the window
158*ANN: oh, well, he'll have to go through [!] the sun to get to it,
         though, won't he? mmhm.
159*A--: did get burned.
160*ANN: he would [\]
161*AF-: no.
162*A--: would get burned. 1
163*AF-: look! see that! up there! see that [\]
   %gpx: points to the top of the window
   %sit: above the window outside is an overhang which is casting a shadow
         where the swing is and hanging at the window are curtains
164*A--: that's curtains, AF.

A. misinterprets the referent 'that', used by AF in Turn 163 and accompanied by a point, as specifying the curtains. AF is actually drawing attention to an overhang outside the window which is casting a shadow on the swing. It seems likely that A has also failed to identify the swing as the referent of 'it' in Turn 157 and 158. It appears that he is having difficulty with the inferencing required to identify these referents.

In contrast, A's misinterpretation of another referring expression is the responsibility of the adult speaker. The adult asks, "Do you remember what you saw when you first came in, that Louie wants to have a go on?" (Turn 019), intending a reference to the swing. However on arrival at the pre-school she had played with Louie and the children in a toy bus and both A and AF understandably interpret "what you saw..." as referring to the bus.

As illustrated by Turn 019, the scenario created for this study (where the adult explains a situation to the subject and then asks him or her to explain it to a friend) results in the subjects being asked pseudo questions. Pseudo questions are those in which speakers request answers already known to them. Some of these questions, and also some of the commands which were used by the adult, contained what could be called pseudo referring expressions. An example is the following exchange between A and the adult.

010*ANN: oh there's something he wants to do, isn't there, A?
011*A--: yes.
012*ANN: oh, tell AF what he wants to do.
013*A--: what do he wants you to do?

A is asked to supply the referent indicated by "something (or what) he wants to do". The demands placed on him here, in terms of inferring what the referent is and formulating it verbally, are very similar to the demands of a direct question such as the following.

085*ANN: what's he got to do, A, before he can go on the swing?
086*A--: what's he do on go on swing?

In both Turn 013 and Turn 086, A responds by echoing part of what his addressee has said. Echoing of this sort can be interpreted as an attempt to make sense of language by a child who is having difficulty with analytic processing. (Manning and Katz, 1989.) This interpretation is supported by A's ability to reply accurately when asked a more specific question: "What's he got to put on?" (Turn 92) "Hat on" (Turn 93).

An examination of instances of failure to establish referent, both when A is speaker and when he is addressee, thus shows a link between his difficulty in drawing inferences and his difficulty in establishing the relevance of some referring expressions to their context. The main effect on the conversation of the unestablished referents arising from this difficulty appears to be that the line of thinking expressed by the speaker cannot always be followed by the conversational partner.

4.3.2 CHILD B.

There were no instances of unestablished referent in the conversation recorded with child B, a girl aged 5;6.

In contrast to the other children in the communicatively impaired group, B demonstrated no difficulty in specifying pseudo referents when asked to do so. This is illustrated by an exchange at the beginning of the conversation.

003*ANN: and BF, the problem is Louie wants to do something doesn't he B? now listen. will you tell BF what Louie wants to do.
004*B--: um [#] play outside.
005*ANN: and why won t I let him do it?
006*B--: because he won't get his hat on.

While B was not party to any instances of unestablished referent, or of deficit on the parameter of cohesion, her contribution to the conversation did produce deficits on another pragmatic parameter, maintenance of topic. This is illustrated by the following exchange.

055*ANN: what are you going to do to help him about a hat then?
056*B--: O.
  %%act: starts to play with the dolls house

There are several other instances where, as here, B. fails to respond to an oblige by the adult, and either verbally (Turn 24-27) or non-verbally (Turn 65-66, Turn 89-90) changes the topic. (For the definition of an oblige see 3.4.6.b).

Although she met the criteria for membership of the communicatively impaired group, B's pragmatic profile is associated with a clinical profile which appears to differ from that of the other four subjects. Discussion with B's pre-school teacher revealed that at school she was distractible and at times uncooperative. The inappropriateness which her teachers noted in her conversation, and also in her play, centred around B's limited ability to maintain a communicative interaction, rather than around the actual content of the small amount of language which she used at pre-school. B's performance on the Reynell Verbal Comprehension Scale is of interest as her low score primarily reflects failure on twelve out of fourteen items in Section 9, which make demands of attentional skills and short term memory. On Section 10, which requires the child to answer questions on a short narrative, she was correct on seven out of eight items, a very acceptable performance for a five year old.

4.3.3 CHILD C

C, a boy of 5;6, attended the kindergarten class of the public primary school in which the sessions were recorded. Like A and B, he was said by his family to have no friend with whom to share the videoed session. His cousin, a girl also aged 5;6, who lived in the same city but not in the same neighbourhood, was invited to participate.

Extract from Transcript

048*CF-: will you let him play?
049*C--: nah.
   %act: shakes head and continues to fiddle fingers
050*CF-: what else?
051*C--: O.
   %act: continues to fiddle with fingers
052*CF-: you gotta tell me.
053*ANN: poor Louie. I do hope you're going to help him.
054*C--: we got to talk to him.
055*ANN: mmhm.
056*C--: got ask Louie something.
   %act: turns towards Louie
   %com: unestablished referent: something
057*ANN: tell CF what he wants to do, C.
058*C--: hmm?
059*ANN: tell CF what Louie wants to do,
060*C--: O.
   %gpx: shakes his head and the top half of his body

Categorisation and Comment

something (Turn 56) Category A (Pronominal) Entity referred to: a query ('something that Louie has got to be asked').

This instance of failure to establish referent illustrates that the successful interpretation of a referring expression does not depend on the speaker alone but on a joint enterprise by the conversational partners. To C's adult addressee there does not appear to be any question to Louie which would be relevant to the current topic. She assumes C is simply confused and therefore does not ask him to clarify the nature of the unspecified query which he refers to in Turn 56. If the adult had asked for clarification, there is a possibility that C would have been able to specify the referent.

Extract from Transcript

083*CF-: ... where s the swing?
   %add: <2u> ANN
084*ANN: C, where's the swing? you know.
085*C--: O.
   %gpx: points to the wall to his left the outside of which is above the swing
086*CF-: O.
   %act: turns to face in the direction C is pointing
087*C--: O.
   %gpx: points downwards unseen by CF- who still has her head turned
towards the wall
   %com: unestablished referent: point
088*ANN: yes, the swing's outside, isn't it? mhmm.

Categorisation and Comment

gesture (points) (Turn 87) Category B (demonstrative non-verbal). Entity referred to: location.

C. does not secure the visual attention of CF for his point in Turn 87. However, even if CF had seen the second of C's gestures, it is not clear that pointing alone would have been adequate to specify for her a location on the other side of a blank wall and at a lower level. A factor here is that C is familiar with the building in which the conversation is taking place and CF is not.

Having originally demanded that C. explain where the swing is, the adult then attempts to effect a repair on his behalf, by saying (Turn 88) that it is outside. The referent remains unestablished, although C is not aware of this, as is demonstrated in the following exchange:

116*CF-: where are the swings?
117*C--: downstairs silly.

In contrast with the majority of conversations recorded for this study (in which the children communicate a sense of fun, or even of delight, at the game of helping the puppet), a considerable amount of tension is evident in the conversation with C. C fiddles with his fingers, his mouth and a handkerchief and at one point gets under the table (Turn 95 sq.). In response to the instruction in Turn 59, which contains the pseudo referent 'what Louie wants to do', he shakes not only his head but the top half of his body. C has, in fact, already communicated information about what Louie wants to do by the responses "play swing" (Turn 25) and "the swing. him need a hat." (Turn 41). CF remains confused, however, and asks, "What else?" (Turn 50), an open ended question, as are most of those she asks C. It is not until Turn 109 that the adult, to whom some of C's tenseness appears to have communicated itself, uses a compensatory strategy. Her whispered instruction to C to fetch the hidden hat immediately results in his more relaxed participation in the conversation.

Prutting and Kirchner's (1987) criterion for inappropriateness - that the interaction should be judged by an observer to be penalized - is certainly met in this conversation, for example when C unexpectedly gets under the table. An analysis of the unestablished referents which occur contributes to our understanding of what is going awry, by drawing attention to C's difficulty in organising information and in formulating it verbally. An equally important point, however, is C s evident tension, at times mounting to distress, over his own communicative difficulties. Following the distinction made in Chapter One (1.3), this self-consciousness is not categorised as a pragmatic deficit but as one situated within the broader area of social competence. It is, however, a matter of crucial relevance when devising therapy for C's pragmatic difficulties, especially when recommending strategies to his conversational partners.

4.3.4 CHILD D

D, a girl of 6;9, brought along her close friend DF, aged 6;4, to take part in the study. D had been referred for therapy by her class teacher with the comment, "Language limited. Words are in inappropriate context. Rambles and is repetitive. Loses meaning of what is being said."

Extract from Transcript

010*D--: DF.
011*DF-: yes.
012*D--: now this dog. I know where's the hat is. so. do you know where it is?
   %com: unestablished referent: the hat
013*DF-: O.
   %act: shakes head
014*D--: I guessed it.
015*ANN: <tell tell> [/] tell DF what Louie wants to do and why I won't let
him do it, please, D.
016*D--: Louie, Louie want to wear thing what she does wants to splain to her.
   %act: <8> points at ANN
   %com: unestablished referents: thing what she does want to splain to
her; her
017*DF-: what?
018*D--: he's wants to juddle.
   %com: unestablished referent: juddle
019*DF-: he wants to <sp > [//] juddle.
020*D--: mmhm.
021*DF-: he want?
022*D--: alright explain him [...] Louie did splain me and [...] [# .4]
023*DF-: does he have to wear a hat?
024*D--: yes.
025*DF-: so otherwise you won't let him <put> [//] go outside.
026*D--: so he wants to go outside and play on the swing without a hat.
027*DF-: <ooo!> [disapprovingly].
028*D--: so he'll get sun cancer. won't he?

Categorisation and Comment

"the hat" Turn 12. Category: C (Definite Article). Endophoric reference. Entity referred to: article designating previously specified member of class hats. Specification has not occurred. Comment: no previous reference to a hat has been made since DF joined the conversation and no hat is visible.

"thing what she does want to splain to her" Turn 16. Category H(c) (Identifying Features.) Entity referred to: type of entity is unclear. It is something to wear which suggests an object but it is also something to be explained which suggests an idea.

"her" Turn 16. Category A (Pronominal.) Either endophoric or exophoric reference. Entity referred to: person, identity unclear. Comment: the pronominal reference "she" earlier in the utterance is disambiguated by D pointing at the adult.

"juddle" Turn 18. Category G (a). Semantic item, meaning not understood. Entity referred to: action. Request for clarification requested and unsuccessfully attempted. Comment: the possibility that "juddle" is either a nonce word, with a meaning known only to the two children, or an example of phonological confusion, is not supported by any available evidence. It is also unlikely in view of DF's request for clarification.

D's use of the definite article "the hat" (Turn 12 ) is an example of failure in presupposition. The use of 'the' indicates a mutually specific referent but DF does not know of the existence of this particular hat. D's referring expression therefore fails to take into account the state of knowledge of her conversational partner.

In contrast, the two unestablished referents in Turn 16 do not fit into a pattern of presuppositional error. No amount of hindsight about what is known to the speaker makes possible a specific interpretation of these referring expressions. Turn 16 is a response to the instruction given by the adult in Turn 15, "Tell DF what Louie wants to do and why I won't let him do it." This turn is, in effect, a request for a statement of the current topic of conversation, and contains the pseudo referent 'what Louie wants to do'. D's reply to the instruction in Turn 15 is confused and the two unestablished referents in Turn 16 appear to be an aspect of this confusion, as does "juddle" in Turn 18. However in Turn 26 D provides a clear statement ("he wants to go outside and play on the swing without a hat") which would have been a satisfactory response to Turn 15.

What has occurred in the conversation to account for this shift from a confused proposition and unestablished referents to a clearly stated proposition and clearly specified referents? The answer appears to lie in DF's contribution in Turns 23 and 24. By some impressive inferencing, which it seems likely her intimacy with D has helped to make possible, DF herself proposes an answer to the pseudo question in turn 15. D immediately confirms and restates what DF has said, including additional information about Louie wanting to play on the swing and the likelihood of him getting 'sun cancer'. ('Sun cancer is not coded as an unestablished referent as it is understood by DF, who also uses the term herself (Turn 59).)

Three out of the four unestablished referents in this exchange can thus be seen to arise out of an organisational difficulty on D's part, involving the selection and formulation of information required at a given point in the conversation. A difficulty of this kind has been described by Damico (1985, p. 182) as a "temporal mapping problem". (see 4.4.1.a below). There is evidence in the transcript that the required information is available to D and that she recognises the listener's need to be given it. Her difficulty appears to be with integrating the information into the structure of the conversation. However, D does successfully select and formulate the required information once DF has provided her with a more clearly defined topic to act as a framework.

It would be hard to argue that D's initial attempt to state 'what Louie wants to do' is any clearer than C's. Indeed it appears less clear, although it may gain from being presented at a single point in the conversation. In both instances the adult persists with her unhelpful pseudo questions. Where there is a marked contrast between the two conversations is in the responses of the language impaired children's friends. Whereas CF remains confused and continues to ask mainly open ended questions of C, DF 'second guesses what D is trying to say and formulates it in a way which D finds very helpful. It is also of note that DF puts her repair in the form of a question, thus maintaining a relationship of equality with D. CF, while sympathetic to C, assumes a superior role in the conversation, using commands such as, "You gotta tell me, no. you have to tell me properly." (Turns 36 and 38.)

Thanks to the impressive compensatory strategy of DF there are, in the conversation between her and D, no instances of social unresponsiveness, as defined by Van Hekken, Vergeer and Harris (1980) (see discussion in 3.2). However, if for this reason one were not to classify the unestablished referents in this exchange as deficits (and therefore not to analyse them), information of considerable importance to D's assessment and therapy would be lost.

4.3.5 CHILD E

E, a boy of 7;11, took part in the study with his close friend and class mate EF, a boy of 7;3. Both attended the public primary school where the study took place.

Extract from Transcript

008*E--: <I won't listen to <you, Louie.>["] [overlap>] >
   %com: <1> I unestablished referent
009*EF-: <you, Louie.> [<overlap
010*E--: < <we> [//] I won't listen to you.>["] Louie! Louie! he won't listen to me.

Categorisation and Comment

I (turn 8) Category A (Pronominal) Entity: Person. It is not clear whether the referent is the speaker or Louie, the puppet. A self-initiated repair is successfully undertaken in Turn 10.

The ambiguity here appears to be the result of a confusion by E between speaking for the puppet and speaking to it. The symbol < >["] indicates that E is using a puppet's voice'. In Turn 10 he repeats the statement made in Turn 8, this time successfully switching between roles.

Extract from Transcript

037*ANN: well, you haven't actually told EF what it was that Louie wants to do, E.
038*E--: <Louie wants to do um> [//] he wants to go out and play on the swing. and <and he> [//] he hasn't got a hat and he doesn't know where it is. so if he turns around he can't see it. but he wants to go out and they say to him <wear a hat, Louie, <if you want to go out to wear it> [//] if you want to swing on the swing.>["] <no.>["] yes. <no.>["] <yes.> [overlap>]
   %act: <1u> takes hat off Louie and puts it on the table <2u> puts Louie's hat on the chair behind the table <3u> makes Louie look at
the blackboard which the hat was originally behind
039*EF-: <yes.> [<overlap]

Categorisation and Comment

they (Turn 38) Category A (Pronominal.) Endophoric reference. Entity referred to: persons, identity unclear.

'They' can be used to specify unknown persons in a position of authority (Perera, 1984) but this interpretation does not seem to fit the context. A reference to 'she' (the adult) would establish referent here but the use of the third person plural is confusing. Examples of a similarly confusing use of 'they' by children with communicative difficulties have been discussed by Halliday and Hasan (1985) and by Bishop and Adams (1989).

A number of revisions in Turn 38, (indicative of some difficulty in 'temporal mapping') and a deficit on the pragmatic parameter of cohesion (when the conjunction 'so' is inappropriately used) also contribute to some difficulty for the addressee in following the line of thinking expressed by the speaker.


(Turn numbers in this discussion refer to the transcripts in Appendix C.)


The discussion is divided according to the different sources of error which appear to be responsible for the occurrence of unestablished referents on this parameter.

4.4.1.a Complexity of Subject Matter: Temporal Mapping Problems

Liles (1985) has presented evidence which suggests that the use of pronominals poses particular problems for language-impaired children. She suggests the following explanation.

"Referring back to prior events via the use of "he", "she", "it" and so on, requires a fairly complex organization of ideas because the speaker must maintain distinctions between characters, events, and their relationships for clarification to the listener." (p. 129).

In looking at the instances of unestablished referent in this category in the current study, it appears that clarifying the referent of a pronominal is especially difficult when the child is attempting to state a proposition which itself involves a complex organisation of ideas. Coding the pseudo-referent 'what Louie wants to do' is the context of two of the three unestablished referents of this type which were discussed in the previous section (D Turn 16, E Turn 38). It was also the context of an unestablished pronominal referent which was used by one of the children with normally developing language (CY, Age 4;4, Turn 004).

004*CY-: her did want to have a swing. and her won't let him swing.

Categorisation and Comment

Unestablished referent "her" (lu1). Either endophoric or exophoric reference. Entity referred to: person, identity unclear.

CY's failure to establish the referent of "her" closely resembles D's failure to do so for the same pronominal in Turn 016. In both instances the problem is not one of ambiguity between possible referents but of confusion over whom, in context, the referent could possibly be. And in both instances the children appear to be experiencing difficulty in encoding a proposition.

Damico (1985), citing a number of earlier commentators, has used the term "temporal mapping problem" (p. 181) to describe difficulty in encoding a proposition or "rapidly and efficiently fitting a verbal sequence into an experiential context" (p. 181). He states that a temporal mapping problem is often signalled by repetitions, pauses and hesitation phenomena which are indicative of the speaker's difficulty in finding words and syntax to code a thought. Rinaldi (1991) has made a similar observation about the conversation of adolescents with moderate learning difficulties. She describes excessive pausing, hesitation, and revision, together with word finding difficulties (although the speakers did not have problems with confrontation naming tasks). She comments that these problems were exacerbated by demands upon "linguistic and cognitive skills, such as the decision as to what information to include and how to order it." (p. 2). Damico (1985) suggests that temporal mapping problems of this kind are a common feature of language disorder and may also occur occasionally among children with normally developing language.

A number of the normal language users in the current study, as well as four of the five language impaired children, showed evidence of temporal mapping problems, as described by Damico and Rinaldi. These occurred either in the context of coding 'what Louie wants to do' (BY, Age 3;11, Turn 006) or in the context of coding 'what to do to help Louie' (CO, Age 5;5, Turns 24 and 26; DO, Age 6;9, Turn 006).

On this evidence, it appears possible that temporal mapping problems are a feature of normal development, occurring when children are faced with the need to organise in language ideas which they find complex. If this is so, the persistent mapping difficulty noted by Damico as characteristic of many language disordered children, might more precisely be described as a persistent difficulty in the verbal organisation of ideas.

4.4.1.b Failure in Presupposition

Another type of unestablished referent in the pronominal category involves a failure in presupposition. D's reference to 'the hat' when her addressee is not aware of the existence of this particular hat was discussed in 4.3.4. A similar failure in presupposition occurs in the following exchange between one of the comprehension matched controls and his friend, EY (age 6;7) and EYF (Age 5;1).

013*EY-: could um just [?] go around there. while he's not looking <we can>
[/] we can put it on his head.
   %com: <2u8> it unestablished referent
   %gpx: <lu3-5> points behind the screen <2u8-11> points to Louie
014*EYF: what?
015*EY-: <that's what I think.> [?] go around here, get the hat [///] can I
go get the hat?
016*ANN: sure. yes.
017*EY-: see this hat in there?
   %act: <bef> goes behind the blackboard <1u> picks up the hat
018*EYF: yeah.

Categorisation and Comment

it (Turn 013) Category A (Pronominal). Entity referred to: object. Louie s hidden hat. Presuppositional error: the addressee EY does not know of the existence of the hat. Clarification requested (Turn 014) and successfully attempted (Turn 017).

Following his failure to establish referent, EY clarifies the referent of "it" for EYF (and also actively furthers the objective of helping Louie) by fetching the hat referred to and verbally drawing EYF's attention to it.

One other presuppositional error was noted which involved a pronominal referring expression. The youngest child in the study, AY (Age 3;9) is playing with a number of toys and is asked by the adult to tell AYF where the swing is. He replies, "First I'll have to turn it off." (Turn 196) The adult enquires, "it's what?" but AY provides no verbal clarification of the referent of "it". AY's brief fiddling with the toy telephone (Turn 198) is not noted by the adult since it does not appear relevant to the referent. In the adult's possibly outdated experience, telephones are not things one turns off. Subsequent discussion with AY's mother revealed that he and his sister had an old telephone switchboard as a plaything, part of their game being to turn it on and off. Thus the failure to establish referent here is the result of the child's over-estimate of the adult partner's knowledge.

4.4.1.c Verbal Disambiguation

Although the adult rules for number. for gender and (particularly) for case when using pronouns were not yet fully observed by many of the children in the study, this syntactic immaturity was not responsible for any instances of unestablished referent. Particular difficulty with regard to those rules was experienced by Child A (Age 4;9) who at one point referred to his female friend as "it" (Turn 172) and then as "he" (Turn 174). Nevertheless A was able, like McTear's daughter at the same age (McTear, 1985), to make a pronominal referent more explicit by spontaneously replacing it with the noun for which it was substituting (Turn 53). Revisions of this type were also made by the children with normally developing language. for example AY (Age 3;9, Turn 132/34) and DY (Age 4;11, Turn 071). DY, playing with her friend's puppet, Wilma, says, "Wilma's on <her> [//] DYF's back." This revision occurs during an exchange (Turn 63 to 76) which involves something of a tour de force in the use of pronominal reference. DY and DYF (Age 5;5) maintain a running commentary while making Louie and DYF's puppet, Wilma, perform for the camera. During this exchange, as well as describing the events they are creating, the children between them address the adult, Wilma, the hat (Turn 070) and each other, and speak for Louie (076), making all the appropriate adjustments in pronominal use.

4.4.1.d Gestural Disambiguation

The use by some of the children in the study of pointing and gesture when establishing referent is illustrated by a number of still frames from the videos made for the current study (Fig. 2aj).

Pointing is another tactic which can be used to disambiguate a pronominal referent, as long as the referent is physically present (Tanz, 1980). This tactic was used by a language impaired child in the study (D, Age 6;6, Turn 016 (see discussion in 4.3.4), and Turn 085 (Figure 2b), as well as by children with normally developing language. These included DO (Age 6;9) in the exchange below (Figure 2a).

062*ANN: . . . <yes. how come she knew to wear a hat?>["]
   *act: <4u3> makes Louie gesture towards the glove puppet
063*DO-: because her mother was very sensible and she was listening. and that's <why>[//] how she knew.
   %gpx: <1u8> points at the glove puppet

It should be noted that the use of pointing, and other gesture, in the establishment of referent is not limited to topics concerning the here and now. DO in Turn 063 is describing a past (imagined) event, while indicating a participant in that event who happens to be present. DYF (Age 4;4) similarly uses gesture to help establish an absent referent when describing the surprising behaviour of a character from literature under an altered name, the 'Cheddar Cat . Explaining that "his teeth come out in the sky" (Turn 051-053) DYF points to her own teeth and then holds her hands up in the air (see illustration in Figure 2f).

On first studying the transcripts in which these gesturally disambiguated pronominal referring expressions occur, the author marked as unestablished both the referent indicated by D in Turn 016 and the referent indicated by DO in Turn 063. This judgment was revised after the video was re-viewed, illustrating the importance of using video rather than audio recording to investigate this area.

There are many instances in the study of the tactic of establishing referent by a combination of physical and verbal means, or occasionally by physical means alone. For example, gesture can be used on its own to make personal reference. (Personal reference includes reference to objects and events as well as to persons (Liles, 1985) ). An instance of a referring expression of this kind, occurs when a finger is held up to indicate "me" (BOF, Age 5;6, Turns 024 and 026; see illustration in Figure 2i).


Demonstrative reference has been described as a form of verbal pointing" (Halliday and Hasan, 1976, p.57; Liles, 1985, p.132).

The children in this study were required to tell their friends about a hat and a swing which were present in the immediate environment, but not visible. Gesture, usually accompanied by "verbal pointing" was used by most of the children when attempting to establish the location of these two items. Child C's failure to establish the location of the swing because he failed to secure the visual attention of his addressee to his pointing, has already been discussed. A similar failure to establish referent occurs when AY (Age 3;9) says, "it's round there. this way" (Turn 033), but fails to secure his addressee's visual attention to his point towards the location of the hat (see illustration in Figure 2d). CY (Age 4;4) does secure the visual attention of his addressee to the pointing with which he accompanies his reference to "the swing down there" (Turn 004), but points away from the actual direction of the swing. In contrast, a successful combination of attention getting and attention directing occurs when AY establishes the location of a visible referent, the puppet Louie, by using one hand to touch his addressee and the other to point at the referent ( Turn 010, Figure 2c).

For a referring expression such as "there" to successfully establish a locational referent it is not necessary for the location to be specified precisely. As discussed in 3.3 above, what is important is that the addressee can identify the referent to an extent which is appropriately specific for the context. For example, EO (Age 7;10) reassures the puppet that it has a hat by saying "it's over there" (Turn 064) and gesturing towards the hat's general whereabouts. This provides an opening for the puppet to ask for a more specific location, if this information is required. "Over there" is thus appropriately specific. This establishment of referent can be contrasted with the inadequately specific use of "here" by Child A (Age 4;9) in the statement "there butcher here" (Turn 123) which was discussed in 4.3.1. In his use of "there" EO establishes an identifiable general location of relevance to the immediate conversational context. On the other hand, A s use of "here" is confusingly indefinite and cannot be interpreted by reference to the current topic (the mysterious "butcher").


Child D's failure to establish referent, because she erroneously makes the assumption that her conversational partner knows of the existence of 'the hat', was discussed in 4.3.4. It is paralleled by a similar use of 'the hat' by AO (Age 5;1; Turn 010). As discussed above (2.4.4), the inappropriate use of 'the' is a feature of early language development. The author has observed the converse, the use of 'a' when 'the' would be appropriate, in the speech of language disordered children attending therapy. An instance of this occurs in the conversation of A

(Age 4;9; Turn 025). In contrast, a spontaneous self-correction from the inappropriate use of "a" is made by COF (Age 5;3) when he says, "I was going to give him <a> [//] the hat". (Turn 037).

The use of 'the' to indicate as given "things [which] are part of the cultural situation" (Quirk, 1973, p.73) such as 'the paper' and 'the kettle was discussed above (2.4.4). In the current study a coding difficulty arose in relation to a particular item of this type, the swing. 'The swing' could be regarded as equivalent to 'the paper' and 'the kettle' in that it is an item commonly found where there are children. The plural term 'the swings' is perhaps more likely to be used in the context of a school, but both the singular and the plural term are used by children in the study, and in one instance CO (Age 5;5) uses both interchangeably in the same turn.

008*CO-: you should say, if you want to go out and swing on the swing you have to wear a hat. <if you don't you can t wear a> [/] if you don't you can't go out on the swings.

A close examination of the transcripts showed 'the swing(s)' to be so frequently introduced as a given referent that the decision was taken to code none of these instances as examples of unestablished referent. This solution was not entirely satisfactory as in at least two of the conversations the term appeared to lead to some confusion on the part of the addressees (AOF and EF). It seems likely that similar coding difficulties could arise with other referring expressions of this type. To deal with these, it might be useful to include in the P.E.R. a 'Problem' category of the type used in the Language Assessment Remediation and Screening Procedure (LARSP; Crystal, Fletcher & Garman, 1976).


The utilisation of these three parameters by the children in the study will be briefly discussed. Of the three, only the use of ellipsis gave rise to instances of unestablished referent, both of these by children with normally developing language.

4.4.4.a Comparative reference

Comparative reference resembles literal comparison but involves comparison with an item whose identity has already been established in the discourse. An example from the current study is provided by EYF (Age 5;1) whose attention is drawn by his friend to some Lego and who comments, "I've got some of that at home. It's just like this one." (Turn 026).

4.4.4.b Substitution

When substitution is used it is necessary to refer back to a referent whose identity is already established. The referring expression is a repetition of this previously stated item but modifies it in some way. There was a single instance of substitution being used by a child in the language impaired group, when D (Age 6;9) said, "I'll find you a hat. One you can wear."

A friend of one of the language impaired children in the current study AF (Age 6;0) uses substitution when she observes that Louie's hat is too big, and suggests, "he could need a little one". (Turn 139). As discussed above (4.3.1), AF's referent here may not be grasped by A, her addressee. Halliday and Hasan (1976) have pointed out that where substitution and ellipsis occur, it is necessary to work out from the context not only what earlier referent is being referred to, but also how much of the original referring expression is to be 'carried over'. The inferencing involved in doing this may well present problems for some communicatively impaired children.

4.4.4.c Ellipsis

When ellipsis occurs part of the structure of a sentence is omitted on the basis that its meaning is recoverable from the context. A variant of ellipsis is sub-audibility, where a speaker omits the beginning of a sentence and what is omitted can be inferred from the situation. Among several examples of sub-audibility in the current study are the following (with the omitted 'sub-audible words enclosed in brackets).

(I've) got to open the door AY Age 3;9 Turn 222.

(she) looks really good. DYF Age 5;5 Turn 066.

Two instances of unestablished referent involving ellipsis occurred in the study. These are as follows.

AY (age 3;9)

222*AY-: got to open the door in case he wants to.

Comment It does not make sense here to infer that he (Louie) may want to open the door and no other verb to fill the slot left empty by ellipsis is available from the context.

CO (age 5;5)

016*CO-: if you don't wear a hat <I'll take> [/] I'll take a book off you and put it up.

Comment Apparently CO is not aware that when used with this particular meaning 'put it up' must be followed by a prepositional phrase such as 'on the shelf'. The point is a subtle one since ellipsis would be acceptable here if the referent of 'it' was something which required attaching (as in "I'll take a curtain and put it up") and it would also be acceptable to say "I'll take a book and put it away".

An examination of the transcripts in the current study shows that all subjects, including the language impaired group, make some appropriate use of ellipsis.


4.4.5.a Meaning not understood

A's failure to establish referent with the terms 'butcher' and 'wheel' and D's with the term 'juddle' were discussed in the previous section. A lexical item whose meaning was not understood was also used by one of the control group, AY (Age 3;9) in the exchange shown below. AY and AYF (Age 5;4) are pretending that Louie is talking to them and AYF has declared that the puppet has asked for 'a bucket of ice cream' and 'a bag of butterflies'.

060*AY-: now what he's making up? <he said> [/] he said he wants a bord to eat up.
   %com: unestablished referent: bord
061*ANN: he wants a what?
062*AY-: a bord.
   %com: unestablished referent: bord
063*AYF: a bird to eat up.
064*AY-: yeah.
   %par: laughing
065*ANN: well, he's a funny dog, I must say.
066*AY-: and <he's> [/] eating everything up.
067*ANN: is he?
068*AY-: yes.
069*ANN: no. he's not going to eat me, is he?
070*AY-: no. he's just eating that. still eating.
   %gpx: <1u2-4> indicating the border of the blackboard

Categorisation and Comment

bord (Turn 060). Category G(a). (Lexical Item: meaning not understood). Entity referred to: a thing that Louie wants to eat

When asked by the adult for clarification of 'bord', AY simply repeats 'a bord' but then laughingly confirms AYC's suggestion that he is referring to a bird. However, turn 070 suggests that the intended referent was in fact the blackboard, or conceivably its border. The referent is therefore ambiguous. A choice of plausible interpretations has been provided, however, whereas no interpretation fitting the context is available for A's expressions 'butcher' and 'wheel' or for D's expression 'juddle'.

Items such as 'a bag of butterflies', where the referent is a creation of fantasy but is not a metaphor, are analysed under the lexical item section of the P.E.R.. The distinction between fantasy referents and metaphor is discussed in 4.4.9 below.

4.4.5.b Inappropriate degree of specificity

As discussed above (1.4.4 and 3.3), a particular lexical item (such as 'going' or 'walking') may be under or over specific for the context in which it is used, and thereby fail to establish referent adequately. An inappropriate degree of specificity may also affect referring expressions on a number of other sections of the P.E.R.. Instances of the use of insufficiently specific referring expressions by A and by C were discussed in 4.3.1 and 4.3.3. The children with normally developing language did not provide any instances of failure to establish referent as a result of an inappropriate degree of specificity.


4.4.6.a Attributes

Included under this heading is D's referring expression "thing what she does want to splain to her" (Turn 016), discussed in 4.3.4. It appears that D. has a temporal mapping problem at this point and that this expression does not, in fact, have any specific target referent. Her failure to establish referent here is thus of a different type from that occurring when a speaker is trying to identify a target referent but has difficulty stating its salient features. An instance of the latter type of difficulty occurred in this study when COF (Age 5;3) attempted to describe 'sunmarks', while warning Louie to wear a hat.

033*COF: if you don't you'll get freckles.
034*CO-: and sunburn.[#]
035*COF: and sunmarks. sunmark. sunmarks are hmm where you put [\]

Here COF is attempting to identify the referent indicated by 'sunmarks' by means of a description resembling a dictionary definition. A description of a somewhat different type is required to pick out one referent from among a group of similar items. A referring expression of this kind occurs when AYF (Age 5;4) identifies one from a choice of toy phones by saying, "He only wants the yellow phone." (Turn 143).

A number of other functions, besides that of identifying a referent. can be performed by the description of attributes. These include the expression of attitude, as in the comment by D (Age 6;9), "I like that nice dress" (Turn 006), and the conveying of information, as in the statement by CO (Age 5;5), "This is the hat that you're going to wear if you go on the swing" (Turn 038).

4.4.6.b Locating devices

A's use of "inside" (Turn 103) as an insufficiently specific locating device has already been discussed (4.3.1). No other unestablished referents on this section of the P.E.R. were noted.


No unestablished referents on this section were noted in the transcripts for the study. However, an interesting instance of failure to establish referent with an adverbial of time occurred in an exchange between D, DF and the adult which was videoed immediately after the conversation shown in the transcript. D and DF had brought Louie back indoors after his swing.

*ANN: mmhm. I don't know why he wouldn't put a hat on before. wasn't he
%com: unestablished referent: before
*D--: he doesn't have to wear a hat in<side> [!]
*ANN: oh no, he can take it off now.
*D--: O.
%par: laughs
*DF-: my turn.
%act: takes the hat off Louie
*D--: see that one.
%act: watches DF-
*ANN: why do you think he wouldn't put that hat on, D?
*DF-: <because> [/] because he thought the sun wouldn't [...]
*D--: come in.
*DF-: the sun wouldn't burn him.

What is of particular interest here is the contrast between the replies of D and of DF to the adult's question. "Why do you think he wouldn't put that hat on?" DF has grasped that the adult's adverbial "before" in the first turn quoted relates to the time before Louie went outside. D assumes that the time being discussed is when Louie returned to the room after having a swing. The time referent "before" is thus established for one child, but not for her language impaired friend. who has difficulty with the inferencing involved. The communicative effect of the adult's referring expression is thus appropriate for one of her addressees but inappropriate for the other.


The scenario created for this study required the children to interact with a puppet and thus encouraged role play and fantasy. Several of the children appeared to feel a need to establish that they knew the situation was one of pretence (BF (Age 5;6) Turn 015; CY (Age 4;4) Turn 041; EO (Age 7;10) Turn 074), but all subjects and controls (and their friends) entered into the make-believe and many took very full advantage of the opportunity for fantasy play.

In a detailed discussion of the use of metaphor by young children, outlined in Chapter 3 above, Winner (1988) has pointed out that the great majority of metaphors used at this age are either based on sensory resemblances, such as shape, or occur during symbolic play when a child makes one object stand for another. Examples of symbolic play metaphors of this kind occur when B (Age 5;6) holds an open book over Louie's head and says "here's a hat" (Turn 077, see Figure 2.j) and when AYF (Age 5;4) points to a shelf and says "that can be the shop down there" (Turn 105).

Another type of symbolic play metaphor used by several of the children, including the oldest language-impaired child E (Age 7;11) involved taking on a role or allocating one to the puppet. For example, CO (Age 5;5) made the puppet fly exclaiming, "Whee! Superdog! Superdog!" (Turn 052) and E, while struggling with the metal bar fastening a door, said "weight lifter!" (Turn 057). The appearance of the puppet in his straw hat gave rise to two role allocation metaphors involving gender and ethnic stereotyping. E remarked, "Then he will be a girl" (Turn 046) and EY (Age 6;7) said, "Japanese man! no ears!" (Turn 049).

No sensory metaphors were used by the communicatively impaired children in the study. D (Age 6;9) says that Louie s ears are "closed" (Turn 064) but she appears to intend this literally rather than metaphorically.

The conversation between EY (Age 6;7) and EYF (Age 5;1) provides an illustration of the distinction between metaphor and literal comparison.

054*EY-: your dog's like this one.
   %add: EYF
055*EYF: I know. except he's brindled, not just brown.
056*EY-: yeah. ah! it's not all brown, EYF. look. <that's like> [/] that's like a milk shake.
   %act: <4u> turns Louie to face EYF <5u> runs his finger over the beige part of Louie's face

The comparison between the markings of EYF's dog and of Louie is a literal one "between elements of the same conventional category" (Winner, 1988 p.98). On the other hand, the comparison between Louie's beige face and a milk shake (presumably a chocolate one) is a metaphor, with the face as the topic and the milk shake as the vehicle, salient features of which are attributed to the topic.

Few literal comparisons occur in the study. The most extended is used by CO (Age 5;5) who examined some toy chairs and said "brown wooden chairs like they used to have in the olden days" (Turn 059). None of the language impaired children use literal comparisons, with the one exception of an attempt by E (Age 7;11) which suggests he is having some difficulty with the concept of comparison.

001*ANN: this is Louie, EF. see, sitting there.
002*E--: see, just like, you know [# .2] a puppet.

No use of irony occurred in the study but the author's clinical observation (2.4.5) that 4 and 5 year olds use hyperbole was supported by the complaint of AOF (Age 5;8), "We've been waiting here for a hundred years. When are you going to take the photo?" (Turn 067).

Another type of referring device was noted which should possibly be placed in the non-literal category. The adult initiated a game with CY (Age 4;4) and CYF (Age 4;3) where she hid a hat and the children closed their eyes and, on opening them, had to guess the hiding place. The children then took over the hiding of the hat and teased the adult by giving her false information about where they had put it. One of the children, aged 4;3, used the referring expression "under the table" (Turn 127) to indicate the supposed location of the hat, and both laughed delightedly when the adult looked under the table and found nothing. Since the adult was playing along with this game (knowing the stated location to be false, both from the child's tone of voice and because she had cheated by peeping) and since the children probably (but not certainly) believed the adult was deceived, it is not clear whether the referring expression should be classed as a lie or as a playful incongruity. It would be of interest to look at this type of playful deception in longitudinal studies of children's conversations, since it seems possible that games of this kind could form a developmental link between the early use of deliberate incongruity and the later emergence of the considerably more complex device of irony.


There is a distinction between verbal fantasy and metaphor. In metaphor a vehicle, such as a book or a shelf, is made to stand for a topic, such as a hat or a shop. In verbal fantasy the imaginary referent (such as a bag of butterflies' or the 'Cheddar Cat') is identified directly.

The director Ingmar Bergmann has made a point about the art of film making which is also relevant to children's fantasies.

"When one creates films, it is very important not to be must be coherent...but...if you have faith in your creative imagination, then you can be completely irrational". (Assayas & Bjorkman, 1990, p. 19).

This observation can be applied to passages of verbal fantasy such as that which occurs (Turn 014-056) in the conversation between BY (Age 3;11) and BYF (Age 4;4). The two girls list a series of unlikely items, linked by semantic, phonological and literary associations, which could be used to help Louie. These are Dad's alarm clock, a new clock, the TV, a digger, Tigger, a Cheshire Cat and a Cheddar Cat. While these irrational suggestions may violate Grice's (1975) Maxim of Quality (1.2), the passage in which they occur is coherent and the identity of the imaginary referents is successfully established.



4.5.1.a Introduction

In 4.3 and 4.4 the P.E.R. has been used as a framework to look in detail at how the instances of unestablished referent which occurred in the conversations recorded for this study arose. The communicative effect of these unestablished referents has also been examined. This detailed examination has shown that several of the types of difficulty which led to instances of unestablished referent in the conversations of the communicatively impaired children were also responsible for instances of unestablished referent in the conversations of the children with normally developing language. There were also, however, some types of difficulty which occurred only in association with the unestablished referents in the communicatively impaired children's conversations. These are of particular interest as they draw attention to factors which may be specific to the children s impairment, as opposed to those factors which appear to result from a pattern of developmental delay.

4.5.1.b Features common to the communicatively impaired children and those with normal language

As discussed earlier in this study (2.3.4) many recent commentators have pointed out that failure in presupposition, or taking into account the viewpoint of one's addressee, is considerably less pervasive in the conversations of young children than was previously thought. Nevertheless, difficulties do arise in this area and a pronoun or definite article may be used to indicate a 'given' referent which is, in fact unknown to the addressee. Four such instances of failure to establish referent occurred in the current study, the speakers being AY (Age 3;9, Turn 196), AO (Age 5;1, Turn 010), EY (Age 6;7, Turn 013) and a member of the language impaired group, D (Age 6;9, turn 012). three of these references were to the puppet's hat, the child not recalling that the friend to whom they were speaking did not know of the hat's existence.

Another factor which resulted in a referent being unestablished for the partner both of a communicatively impaired child (C, Age 5;6) and one with normal language (AY. Age 3;9) was the use of a point without first securing the visual attention of the addressee. Another child, CY (Age 4;4), while getting the attention of his addressee, failed in attention directing by pointing away from the location he was attempting to identify.

Both the communicatively impaired and the non communicatively impaired children made use of pointing for emphasis, and to disambiguate the identity of referents. However none of the language impaired children used other types of gesture to help establish referent, whereas several of the children in the control groups were inventive in doing so, as shown, for example, in Figure 2f and Figure 2g. This restricted use of gesture may possible be an example of the lesser degree of flexibility in using pragmatic skills which Friel-Patti and Conti-Ramsden (1984) note in language impaired children.

A third factor which, on the evidence of this study, appears to give rise to instances of unestablished referent in both normally developing and communicatively impaired children's conversations, is that of encoding difficulties. Several instances of a confused use of pronominals were noted to occur within the context of the coding of a proposition which the child found complex. As discussed above (4.4.1.a), Damico (1985) has described an encoding difficulty of this kind as a "temporal mapping problem" and suggests that, while it may infrequently occur during normal language development, the problem often presents as a persistent feature of the conversations of language impaired children. The evidence of the conversations recorded for the current study is in the main consistent with this view. However, mild temporal mapping problems appear to be more common among normal language learners than Damico's comments would lead one to expect. The communicatively impaired children do differ, however, in that there appears to be a tendency for their mapping problems to be both more frequent and more severe. For example, when a mapping problem occurs in the conversation of D (Age 6;9), it is associated not only with a confused use of pronominals, but also with an instance of the confused use of identifying features (Turn 016).

Another factor which may influence the use of referring expressions in the course of normal language development, but which in this study appeared in a more severe form in the conversation of the communicatively impaired children, is the introduction of a lexical item whose meaning cannot be interpreted by the addressee. Child A (Age 4;9) introduces the terms 'butcher' and 'wheel' and Child D (Age 5;6) the term 'juddle' in contexts which provide the addressee with no clue as to what the referent might be. One of the control group, AY (Age 3;9) also introduces a lexical item, 'bord', for which referent is unestablished. However, as discussed in 4.4.2.a, there is a choice of plausible referents to which 'bord' could apply. There does not appear to be any referent appropriate to the context for 'butcher', 'wheel' or 'juddle'. In the case of 'bord' the communicative effect is restricted to the ambiguity of a referent. In the other instances the communicative effect extends to a more general uncertainty as to the line of thinking being expressed by the speaker. Hasan has found, in studying children's stories, that "if the text is coherent, a certain degree of ambiguity can be tolerated" (Halliday and Hasan. 1985, p. 89; see also Hasan, 1984). There is thus a distinction between ambiguity and confusion. This distinction is of relevance to the question of how the unestablished referents in the conversations of the communicatively impaired children in the current study differed from those in the conversations of their peers with normally developing language.

4.5.1.c Features found only in the communicatively impaired children

As discussed above (2.3.4), Levinson (1983) has described discourse topic as "what the participants are talking about" (p. 85). At the point in the conversation where AY uses the term 'bord' the current discourse topic (Turn 55 to Turn 70) is 'fantastic items which Louie says he would like to eat'. The addressee, assuming the referent to be relevant to the topic, is able to make a general identification of 'bord', as an item which Louie (somewhat improbably) wants to eat. As we have seen, AYF's suggestion that 'bord' indicates 'a bird to eat up' may be a misinterpretation of AY's intended referent. However, the fact that the referent can be situated in a general way within the topic, means that the ambiguity of this referring expression does not interrupt the flow of conversation. Nor does it seriously impede the ability of AYF (or of AY's other addressee, the adult) to follow the line of thinking he is expressing.

In contrast, A introduces the terms 'butcher' and 'wheel' at points in the conversation where what the participants have been talking about up until then gives no clue as to the meaning of these terms. Nor is any clue provided by the current physical or social context. In both instances it appears that A is introducing a new topic along with the referent, but a topic which seems so irrelevant to the context that it cannot be identified.

A self-correction in the current study suggests that children with normally developing language have, by the age of five, acquired a consciousness that referents should be relevant to discourse topic. This self-correction to a referring expression is made by CO (Age 5:5). CO and his friend COF (Age 5;3) have decided that they can persuade Louie to wear his hat by rewarding him with a story, and the current topic of their conversation is what story book to choose. CO, who is making Louie fly around the room, is distracted from this topic by coming across some Christmas decorations. He then makes Louie speak as follows.

056*CO-: <hey, I want a Christmas tree. whee! a Christmas tree book. that's what I want. I want a Christmas tree book. ["]
   %act: comes across some Christmas decorations and examines them

CO's revision of 'Christmas tree' to Christmas tree book' can be attributed to his awareness that the new referent he has introduced should have been relevant to the current topic. By making this amendment he is able, albeit a little implausibly, to create this relevance and to integrate the referent into the conversational context.

Hasan (1984) has pointed out that a discourse can become incoherent when referents are perceived as irrelevant to the current development of topic. As discussed above (3.3 ), relevance to discourse topic plays a major role in the achievement of an appropriate degree of specificity in a referring expression. In this study we have noted several instances of inappropriately specific referring expressions being used by the communicatively impaired speakers. There were no examples of failure to establish referent for this reason in the conversations between the non-language impaired controls and their friends. There were, however, several instances of a referent not being established when a comunicatively impaired child was the addressee, apparently because the child found the referring expression insufficiently specific, These referents were, in contrast, successfully established for the co-addressees of the children involved. One such instance was D's (but not DF's) misunderstanding of the adult s use of the time referent 'before' (4.4.7). Another was A's misinterpretation of AF's referring expression 'that' (accompanied by a point to the top of a window), as specifying curtains when AF was, in fact, referring to an overhang which was casting a shadow outside (4.3.1). To interpret these referring expressions accurately the children needed to draw inferences from the preceding conversation. Levinson (1985) has stated that "pragmatics is essentially concerned with inference" (p. 21) and these children (like those in Smedley's (1989) classroom study of pragmatic impairment) appear to be having major difficulties with inferencing.

Inferring is closely linked to implying and the inappropriate degree of specificity found in some of the contributions to conversation by pragmatically impaired children appears to derive from their difficulty in working out what information needs to be provided in order to imply, within a given context. the identity of a particular referent. This would explain the "seem[ingly] paradoxical" finding of Bishop and Adams (1989, p.260) that high scores often coexisted for the same pragmatically impaired child on the category of giving too little information and yet also on the category of giving over-precise and over-elaborate information. To give the appropriate amount of information about a referent it is necessary to relate it with some precision to the conversational context.

To draw inferences and make implications successfully, it is necessary for the conversational partners to achieve a shared grasp of the structure of the conversation within the context of which they are conversing. The discussion above of the conversation between D, DF and the adult (4.3.4) examined a number of failures to establish referent which appeared to result from D's difficulty in integrating information into the structure of the conversation. She did, however, successfully select and formulate the required information once her friend DF had provided her with a more clearly defined topic to act as a framework.


The evidence of this small scale study has, as discussed in 4.5.1, been shown to support the view that organisational difficulties are a major cause of inappropriateness in conversation.

This finding is consistent with those of a number of other detailed examinations of the conversations of children whose verbal interaction was at times inappropriate. In a case study of a ten year old with "bizarre and confused" conversational interaction, McTear (1985b) concluded that the child's basic deficiencies were "predominantly in his organisation and presentation of knowledge" (p. 248). A similar conclusion was reached by Liles (1985) in a study of cohesive adequacy in the narratives of normal and language-disordered children. A failure in cohesive adequacy involves "deviations from clear or accurate representations of tied meanings" (p. 124), in other words, failure to establish referent on those categories of the P.E.R. which involve given' referents. Liles concluded that the "less adequate use of cohesion" by the language-disordered subjects "was a result of their poorer narrative organisation rather than an inability to recognise a listener's need for information" (p. 130).

McTear has made the following comparison between the functioning of human beings and of computers.

"Humans and computers differ in that humans are adaptable, they can observe patterns. detect relevance and handle unforeseen occurrences and anomalies. Computers on the other hand are accurate and fast processors of complex sequential logical operations." (McTear, 1987, p. 3).

It appears that those children whose communicative difficulties have come to be described by such terms as 'semantic-pragmatic disorder' have problems with these "human" skills. They find it difficult to detect relevance and to construct and recognise novel patterns of verbal and social interaction. In contrast this group of children are relatively able in areas involving memory and rule following, such as sentence structure, phonology and mechanical reading. This relative competence throws into focus the inappropriateness which arises in their conversational interactions, and which is associated with their difficulty in taking an organised overview of the discourse.

The evidence of the current study suggests that it is not only the mis-match between relatively advanced language structures and relatively delayed language comprehension which produces an effect of inappropriateness in the conversations of communicatively impaired children. It appears that other difficulties in addition to delayed verbal comprehension determine whether a child is communicatively impaired. These children do use unestablished referents resembling those used by younger children whose verbal comprehension is at a similar level. However, there also appear to be features which distinguish some of the unestablished referents in their conversations from those of their younger peers. The most important of these are an inappropriate degree of specificity and a lack of relevance to the conversational topic. Colloquially, one could sum up the communicative effect these produce by saying that the addressee is not simply unable to tell what is being referred to, but is unable to work out "what the speaker is on about".



It has been argued that unestablished referents characterised by an inappropriate degree of specificity and lack of relevance to the conversational topic occur in the conversations of communicatively impaired children and may distinguish the language of these children from that of their peers at a similar level of verbal comprehension. Unestablished referents of this type contribute to the participants losing the thread of the conversation.

Taking the pragmatics-as-cause-effect approach, it can be seen that the confusion created in conversations by unestablished referents of this type can be exacerbated by the children's conversational partners. Alternatively a partner may make it possible for the thread of the conversation to be retrieved. An example was provided when DF helped her friend D to repair a confused response to the adult's pseudo questions. A principle to be stressed here is that language impaired children's attempts at communication should be responded to meaningfully and at a level which enables the children to respond in turn (Rhyner, Lehr & Pudlas, 1990). The role of the conversational partner is thus of considerable relevance to therapy.

While it is important to assess the individual skills of communicatively impaired children, the main intention in developing the P.E.R. as a potential clinical tool is to facilitate the analysis of the joint contributions of all participants in a discourse. An analysis of this kind shifts the emphasis away from the 'oddness' of communicatively impaired children on to the question of what gives rise to the 'oddness' in their conversations. Using the P.E.R., the videoed and transcribed conversations of these children are analysed in collaboration with those involved in their daily lives. Working with these care-givers. the therapist sets out to identify how deficits arise and to devise strategies which will facilitate appropriate communicative interaction and help the child to understand how this appropriateness is achieved.

Therapy needs to be concerned both with inferencing and with the organisation of the structure and content of the discourse, since these appear to be areas of particular difficulty for communicatively impaired children.


Following the gathering of data for the current study, the opportunity arose to undertake therapy along the lines proposed above with one of the communicatively impaired participants, Child D.

Referential communication games (2.3.4) between D and another child were included in therapy and were felt to have helped her grasp the distinction between ambiguous and non-ambiguous descriptions. However the main focus of D's therapy was work on conversational structures within the context of her everyday interactions.

D participated in a small group where simple stories were narrated and then acted out. The same stories were enacted several times with the participants changing roles. This gave the children the opportunity to experience different participant perspectives of the same event and to "re-run" episodes where problems in structuring the interaction had arisen. Within the role play, the adults could follow the lead of the children's initiatives but at the same time could contribute as needed to the construction of the story line, the maintenance of conversational topic and the making of repairs. The role playing scenario also provided a non-threatening means of drawing the children's attention to breakdowns in communication, since the characters played by the adults could express anxiety or complaint about inadequately specified referents, confusion over topic, violation of turn-taking rules and other pragmatic difficulties.

This approach was helpful to D but was in fact only a formalisation of something which was already occurring in her everyday interactions. In a skilled but totally unselfconscious way, D's friend DF was initiating repairs in their conversations and helping D to establish and maintain topic. D's family interacted with her in a similar way and the importance of doing so was discussed, as part of the therapy program, with all those in close contact with her.

Eleven months after this period of therapy, D's mother reported that D had received an excellent end of year school report and was coping well in everyday conversation. She commented that her daughter "still misses the point sometimes, but we help her work it out."


Blank and Marquis (1987) have advocated an approach which they have called "predicating the concept" (p. 6) for use by those working with children who have difficulties in inferencing. (It is advised, for example, that instead of saying, "Get a knife", the teacher should say, "The orange needs to be cut. A knife is good for cutting. Get a knife." (p. 159)). They describe this approach as follows. "In making the implicit explicit. the demands for inferential reasoning on the children's part are reduced, thereby bringing the conversation within manageable proportions." (p. 9). Blank's particular concern is with the academic disadvantage children may suffer if the specific meaning of the language used in the classroom is not spelt out to them. However, the value of such an approach within a therapy context has been queried by Smith (1989) who asks the rhetorical question, "Is it useful to have one's every thought and move dictated by the teacher?" (p. 110).

McTear (1984) has made the point that the care-givers of young children compensate for their conversational deficiencies, giving the conversation "an appearance, at least, of being well formed." (p. 55). While advocating the use of a compensatory role of this kind in therapy, it is argued in the present study that conversational partners must not simply spoon-feed communicatively impaired children. but should act as facilitators, expecting the children to make inferences and take initiatives whenever they have the capability to do so.

Bruner (1975; 1983) has looked in detail at what he calls the "fine tuning" of mothers' conversational interaction with very young children. especially in relation to the growth of reference. Fine tuning is seen by Bruner as central to the child's development of functionally appropriate language. It involves the mother in gradually providing less structure in response to what is currently "the degree of freedom that she believes the child can handle" (p. 124). The therapist's conversational interaction with a communicatively impaired child requires fine tuning of this kind. The amount of structure provided, and the degree of explicit explanation of the implicit, will need to be both "tuned up" and "tuned down", as the child's current contribution to the conversation requires. To achieve this sensitivity, the adult s input needs to be informed by an analysis of the kind which has been discussed in this chapter.

The fine tuning of the degree of structure and explicitness provided for the communicatively impaired child is modelled for and discussed with the child s care-givers, in particular parents and, where possible, school staff. It is equally important to attempt to get peers with whom the child spends time involved in the therapy program. It has been observed clinically that many children with pragmatic difficulties interact more appropriately after they have been helped to form close friendships (Coleman & Neville, 1984). This may be partly accounted for by the way in which a facilitating conversational partner can aid a child s grasp of how a conversation is structured. Unlike their controls. the three youngest children communicatively impaired children in this study had no friends whom they could ask to participate. Their pragmatic difficulties may have made it particularly hard for them to form friendships: and particularly important than they be helped to do so.


The comment has already been made (2.4.6) that there is little in the literature concerning either the role of discourse deixis in early language development or its use by language impaired children. The area is one requiring detailed investigation. The brief observations made here relate only to the issue of identifying a referent when the referring expression involves discourse deixis, and to how this is relevant to the organisation of conversation.

Levinson (1985) makes a distinction between anaphoric reference, "to the same entity as a prior linguistic expression refers to" (p. 86), and discourse-deictic reference, which is to "a linguistic expression (or chunk of discourse) itself" (p. 86). He also uses the term "impure textual deixis" to differentiate reference to previous statements in the discourse from reference to actual linguistic expressions.

Not all the children in the study use discourse deictic referring expressions, but the majority of the non-language impaired ones do so, including the youngest (AY, Age 3;9). Of the communicatively impaired children, D uses several such expressions, and there is one example in the conversation of E. These references are not to linguistic expressions or chunks of discourse, but to previously made statements. Examples include:

002*DO-: I forget what you said.

031*COF: say it again.
      %act: lifts Louie's ears back

055*ANN: <oh, I haven't got a hat.>["]
056*EOF: oh, that's a problem.

Reference may also be forward to a projected statement as in the following:

044*DYF: well, now I know. I 've got the idea. we'll do this. Louie you sit there. and you sit there. that's a good idea.
 %act: <4u> moves Louie to one side of his chair <5u> sits Wilma next to Louie

As the last example illustrates, the verbal statement to which the child refers frequently also involves action. In some instances no statement can be identified as being indicated by the referring expression: the expression refers rather to some aspect of the events which have been taking place and which has been expressed in action. Examples are E's pronouncement after performing a short scenario with the puppet, "That's the end" (Turn 034) and D's exhortation to Louie to wear a hat, "Otherwise her might get mad of this", where "this" refers to Louie's general behaviour. The referent may also be an implied general statement summarising some aspect of what has been said and done previously, as when DO (Age 6;9; Turn 043) says to Louie. "that's why the girl came and got under [Louie's hat] as well, you see. she knew about it. she didn't want to get burned". "It" here refers in a general way to what has previously been established as the danger of not wearing a hat.

It thus appears that reference to an aspect of the discourse does not necessarily have as its referent a linguistic expression or a previously made statement, but may be used to draw together elements of what has previously occurred, whether this been communicated verbally or through action, or by a combination of both. In the earlier discussion of types of referring expression (2.3.1) attention was drawn to Halliday and Hasan's (1976) comment that "the line between exophoric and anaphoric reference is not always very sharp" (p. 37). It appears that there is also a blurred division between reference to aspects of the verbal discourse and reference to what might be called the "experiential discourse": the discourse which comprises what has been happening, as opposed to the discourse which comprises what has been said. Reference can also be made to current events and to anticipated or imagined ones.


Language development has been viewed by a number of commentators as following a hierarchical progression from dependence upon a base in action towards a use which is decontextualised (Blank, 1991; Wells, 1981; Zubrick & Baker. 1987). Wells (1981) writes of the importance of children progressing to a level of ability where the following can be said.

"(the child has) the realisation that the meaning and implications of a message depend upon the precise linguistic formulation of that message and upon the internal relations and consistency between its constituent parts, rather than upon any necessary correspondence between the message and the perception or memories of the extralinguistic context(s) to which the message might apply"

(Wells; 1981, p. 252).

Wells describes this process as learning to disembed one's thinking from "the supportive context of actual experience" (p. 252). Blank takes a similar view of direct experience as not requiring from speakers the application of a high level of organisational skill, commenting "texts of the here and now are not coherent because the material is coherent...the setting carries the meaning" (Blank, 1991).

If this view is taken, it would appear that the greatest challenge to communicatively impaired children is to organise those aspects of discourse which are expressed purely verbally. Whole the long term aim might be to wean them away from "the supportive context of actual experience", this context could for the moment underpin their attempts to deal with strictly verbal material. Seen from this point of view, the playacting in D's therapy would, since it was expressed in action and took place in the here and now, be a relatively simple undertaking for D. It could be used to help her with the far more demanding task of organising and expressing the narrative, which had been verbally presented and which took place in the there and then.

In examining the developmental progression of the child's contribution to the mutual establishment of referent, we have seen that the ability to refer to the entities in the here and now is acquired before the ability to refer to entities in the there and then. We have also seen that the communicatively impaired children found it difficult to organise and express coherently to their friends the information concerning the puppet, which they themselves had been told earlier. This task also presented a certain amount of difficulty for some of the younger children with normally developing language. Furthermore it was only the older children who used language discursively to discuss possible methods of persuading the puppet to wear a hat

The current study provides evidence, however, that, as well as the distinction between the here and now and the there and then, and between the verbal and the directly experienced, two other parameters are relevant to the coherent organisation of language.

One of these further parameters is the degree of complexity of the subject matter. For example, it may be less demanding to refer to what one has been told in a simple story or explanation than to what one has done in a complex episode of symbolic play. Indeed describing what one is currently doing may involve considerable complexity, as is demonstrated in the running commentary of DY and DYF on the performance of their two puppets, which involves a complex sequence of role switching (Turn 066 to Turn 076).

The second parameter of considerable relevance to the coherent organisation of language is the degree to which speakers are required to create structure.

In describing the stringent demands of literate language, Wells (1981) has pointed out that, unlike reading, "the creation of written text...lacks the support of a pre-existing structure" (p. 254). This lack of pre-existing structure also, however, faces the person embarking on a conversation. Certain speaking situations (for example making a purchase) will be considerably more governed by predictable rules than others. In this, conversing resembles writing. There are, however, many differences between the requirements of writing and the requirements of conversation. These differences are discussed by Zubrick and Baker (1987) who emphasise that "the process of writing involves more planning and editing than speech" (p. 2).

It is certainly the case that planning and editing are an essential part of the revision that is involved in creating a written text. However, the difficulties of the communicatively impaired children in this study illustrate the considerable demands involved in carrying out a somewhat different type of planning: the joint structuring of a conversation. We have also seen how demanding the communicatively impaired children found the editing of subject matter required for the production of appropriately specific referring expressions.

In contrast to the process of revision involved in writing, this organisation of language within a conversation must be achieved "on one's feet", in the context of real time. Shotter (1989) has pointed out that the meanings expressed in conversations are constantly "in the process of being formulated" (p. 201). In order to construct meaning in this way it is necessary for participants to continuously shift perspective between themselves and their conversational partner(s), to monitor and maintain the construction and the current focus of topic, and to take into account what information is known by other speakers and currently relevant.

It thus appears that the use of language which is effectively embedded in the specific context of action and interaction may be as complex and demanding an achievement as the use of language which is disembedded from the context of actual experience. There are likely to be occasions when communicatively impaired children can make use of the more static nature of literate language to support their acquisition of the more dynamic skills involved in oral language. One could progress, for example, from a written playscript to actual improvisation and from there to conversation itself.

It is in conversation, rather than in any more formal type of discourse, that the inappropriate use of language is most apparent and most penalising. If one accepts that considerable cognitive rigour is needed to use language within the context of actual experience (no less than within a purely verbal context). the demands that conversation places on the communicatively impaired child become clear.

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