Learning to be contingent: Retarded children‘s responses to their mothers’ requests

N. J. Scherer, Nathaniel O. Owings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The development of conversation requires that children learn to relate their utterances to preceding utterances from other speakers. This investigation examined one way that retarded children relate their utterances to preceding utterances in conversation, namely, response to requests. Late Stage 1 Down‘s Syndrome children's responses were examined for their pragmatic and semantic relationships to four types of requests used by mothers. Conditional probabilities and unconditional probabilities were generated using the lag sequential analysis to evaluate the relationship between mothers' requests and children's responses. The level of significance of the difference between the conditional and unconditional probabilities was then determined with the binomial distribution. The results indicate that the children produced contingent linguistic responses to the mothers’ requests based on the pragmatic intent of the requests; specifically, those requesting information, clarifying a misunderstood remark, and requesting agreement or disagreement with a proposition. The children produced contingent non-linguistic responses to the mothers’ requests for action performance. These findings indicate that responses to requests used by retarded children in Late Stage 1 of linguistic development are the same responses used by normal children at this linguistic stage. In addition, the study suggests that other factors, such as the use of revision behaviors and semantically appropriate responses, account for individual differences observed in the communicative success of the retarded children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-267
Number of pages13
JournalLanguage and speech
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1984
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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