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About the project

DEVCOM will provide an account of the stages and factors involved in children’s developing competence with non-literal uses of language, combining insights and methods from linguistics, philosophy and psychology. 

Four children running on grass on a sunny day. Photo.
Photo: Colourbox

DEVCOM in a nutshell

Overarching goal: 

To fill a critical gap in cognitive theories on pragmatic development, that is, children's acquisition of the cognitive abilities enabling the expression and comprehension of communicative intentions.

A novel hypothesis: 

DEVCOM will investigate the hypothesis that children’s growing sensitivity to sense conventions, which determine the publicly accepted meaning of words in their language, impedes children’s pragmatic reasoning with non-literal uses in the pre-school years.

Previously unconnected domains of non-literal language:

DEVCOM will investigate children’s performance in three domains of non-literal language use: 1) lexical innovation, 2) lexical modulation and 3) figurative uses of langauge, each of which highlights the interaction of pragmatic reasoning with sensitivity to sense conventions in a distinct way.

A novel methodological framework: 

DEVCOM will use a set of novel, child-friendly methodologies combining explicit and implicit measures, assuming that while children’s performance on explicit measures (e.g., picture selection) is liable to be affected by a growing sensitivity to sense conventions, implicit measures (e.g., eye-tracking) may be more revealing of their actual pragmatic abilities. The empirical data will be gleaned from experimental studies with typically developing children aged 2-7 years, and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Subproject 1: The development of lexical innovation 

Examines children's production and comprehension of cases where speakers create new word forms from existing ones (e.g., to gun for 'to shoot', hat-mouse for 'mouse with a hat').

Subproject 2: The development of lexical modulation 

Investigates children's comprehension of lexical narrowing and approximation, where the communicated meaning involves an adjustment of the conventional sense (e.g., temperature for 'higher than normal temperature', empty for 'almost empty').

Subproject 3: The development of figurative uses of language 

Investigates children's comprehension of hyperbole and metaphor (e.g, a ton for 'a lot', lion for 'brave'), where there is a large different between the conventional senses an the meaning communicated by the speaker. 

Subproject 4: The atypical development of non-literal uses 

Uses a selection of comprehension tasks from Subproject 1-3 to investigate the performance of Spanish-speaking children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is a collaboration with the Lindy Lab at the University of the Basque Country.


From 01.09.2020 to 31.08.2025

EU logo with 13 yellow stars in a circle on a blue background. And ERC logo with the letters ERC and orange points in a circle.  .

DEVCOM - The Developing Communicator: Pragmatics, Sense Conventions and Non-Literal Uses of Language - is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 853211 (ERC Starting Grant 2019).

Collaborating project

Creativity and Convention in Pragmatic Development (NFR)

Published Apr. 1, 2020 11:36 AM - Last modified June 13, 2022 8:36 AM