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Learning conversational dependency: Children’s response using un in Japanese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 July 2022

Kobe University, Kobe, Japan
Giovanni SALA
National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology, Obu, Japan
*Corresponding author. Tomoko Tatsumi, 1-2-1 Tsurukabuto, Nada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo, JAPAN. E-mail:


This study investigates how Japanese-speaking children learn interactional dependencies in conversations that determine the use of un, a token typically used as a positive response for yes-no questions, backchannel, and acknowledgement. We hypothesise that children learn to produce un appropriately by recognising different types of cues occurring in the immediately preceding turns. We built a set of generalised linear models on the longitudinal conversation data from seven children aged 1 to 5 years and their caregivers. Our models revealed that children not only increased their un production, but also learned to attend relevant cues in the preceding turns to understand when to respond by producing un. Children increasingly produced un when their interlocutors asked a yes-no question or signalled the continuation of their own speech. These results illustrate how children learn the probabilistic dependency between adjacent turns, and become able to participate in conversational interactions.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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