Skip to main content Accessibility help

Validating justifications in preschool girls' and boys' friendship group talk: implications for linguistic and socio-cognitive development*


Children are believed to construct their causal theories through talk and interaction, but with the exception of a few studies, little or nothing is known about how young children justify and build theories of the world together with same-age peers through naturally occurring interaction, Children's sensitivity to when a pair or group of interlocutors who interact frequently together feel that a justification is needed, is an index of developing pragmatic competence (Goetz & Shatz, 1999) and may be influenced by interactive goals and gender identity positioning. Studies suggest that salient contexts for justifications for young children are disagreement and control (e.g. Veneziano & Sinclair, 1995) but researchers have been less recognizant of ‘situations in which partners verbally assist in the construction of justifications as a means to maintain contact or create solidarity’ (Goetz & Shatz, 1999: 722) as contexts for justifications. The present study examined the spontaneously produced justification constructions in the naturally occurring free play of five friendship groups of preschool-aged children (aged from 3 ; 6 to 5 ; 4), in terms of the motivating context of the justification, marking of the causal relationship with a connective, and causal theories accessed in the talk. Partner expansion (validating justifications) was a salient motivating context for justifications, especially in the talk of friendship groups of girls, and seemed to privilege greater marking of the causal relationship with a connective and less arbitrary reasoning. One group of girls varied their use of validating justifications depending on the theme of play. Results are discussed in terms of the implications of use of validating justifications for children's causal theory building with peers, linguistic development, and pragmatic development.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Amy Kyratzis, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. Email:
Hide All

The research reported was supported by a grant entitled ‘Gender, peer groups, and social identity in the preschool’ to the first author from the Spencer Foundation. We are grateful to the children who participated in the study and their parents, teachers, and school administrators. We are also grateful to Traci Marx and Nereyda Hurtado, who worked on data collection and transcription.

Hide All
Au, T. K.-F. (1994). Developing an intuitive understanding of substance kinds. Cognitive Psychology 27, 71111.
Au, T. K.-F., Romo, L. F. & DeWitt, J. E. (1999). Considering children's folkbiology in health education. In Siegal, M. & Peterson, C. C. (eds), Children's understanding of biology and health, 209234. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barbieri, M. S., Colavita, F. & Scheuer, N. (1990). The beginning of the explaining capacity. In Conti-Ramsden, G. & Snow, C. E. (eds), Children's language, Volume 7, 245–71. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Blum-Kulka, S. (2002). ‘Do you believe that Lot's wife is blocking the road to Jericho?’ Co-constructing theories about the world with adults. In Blum-Kulka, S. & Snow, C. (eds), Talking to adults: the contribution of multiparty discourse to language acquisition, 85115. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bornstein, M. H., Hahn, C.-S. & Haynes, O. M. (2004). Specific and general language performance across early childhood: stability and gender considerations. First Language 24, 267304.
Budwig, N. (1995). A developmental-functionalist approach to child language. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.
Cameron, D. (1997). Performing gender identity: young men's talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity. In Johnson, S. & Meinhof, U. (eds), Language and masculinity, 4764. Oxford: Blackwell. Reprinted in J. Coates (ed.) (1998), Language and gender: a reader, 270–84. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers [page numbers in text refer to reprint].
Carey, S. & Spelke, E. (1994). Domain-specific knowledge and conceptual change. In Hirschfeld, L. A. & Gelman, S. A. (eds), Mapping the mind: domain specificity in cognition and culture, 169200. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Chafe, W. (1984). How people use adverbial clauses. Berkeley Linguistics Society 10, 437–49. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Coates, J. (1996). Women talk: conversation between women friends. Oxford: Blackwell.
Coates, J. (2004). Women, men, and language: a sociolinguistic account of gender differences in language. 3rd ed. (Studies in language and linguistics). London: Pearson Longman.
Dunn, J. (1996). Arguing with siblings, friends, and mothers: developments in relationships and understanding. In Slobin, D. I., Gerhardt, J., Kyratzis, A. & Guo, J. (eds), Social interaction, social context, and language: essays in honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp, 191203. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Dunn, J. & Munn, P. (1987). The development of justification in disputes with mother and sibling. Developmental Psychology 23, 791–98.
Eckert, P. & McConnell-Ginet, S. (1992). Think practically and look locally: language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21, 461–90.
Eisenberg, A. (1992). Conflicts between mothers and their young children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 38, 2143.
Eisenberg, A. & Garvey, C. (1981). Children's use of verbal strategies in resolving conflicts. Discourse Processes 4, 149–70.
Ervin-Tripp, S. M. (1978). What do women sociolinguists want? Prospects for a research field. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 17, 1728.
Ervin-Tripp, S. M. (1993). Constructing syntax from discourse. In Clark, E. (ed.), Proceedings of the twenty-fifth annual Stanford child language research forum, 333–41. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.
Ervin-Tripp, S. M. & Gordon, D. (1985). The development of requests. In Schiefelbusch, R. L. (ed.), Communicative competence: acquisition and intervention, 6195. Beverly Hills, CA: College Hills Press.
Ervin-Tripp, S. M., Guo, J. & Lampert, M. (1990). Politeness and persuasion in children's control acts. Journal of Pragmatics 14, 195219.
Goetz, P. J. & Shatz, M. (1999). When and how peers give reasons: justifications in the talk of middle-school children. Journal of Child Language 26, 721–48.
Goodwin, M. H. (1990). He-said-she-said: talk as social organization among black children. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Goodwin, M. H. (1999). Constructing opposition within girls' games. In Bucholtz, M., Liang, A. C. & Sutton, L. A. (eds), Reinventing identities: the gendered self in discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goodwin, M. H. (2003). The relevance of ethnicity, class, and gender in children's peer negotiations. In Holmes, J. & Meyerhoff, M. (eds), The handbook of language and gender, 229–51. Oxford: Blackwell.
Goodwin, M. H. (2006). The hidden life of girls: games of stance, status, and exclusion. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gumperz, J. J. & Berenz, N. (1993). Transcribing conversational exchanges. In Edwards, J. A. & Lampert, M. D. (eds), Talking data: Transcription and coding in discourse research, 91121. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hood, L. & Bloom, L. (1979). What, when and how about why: a longitudinal study of early expressions of causality. Monographs of the Society of Research on Child Development 44 (serial no. 6).
Kyratzis, A. (1992). Gender differences in the use of persuasive justifications in children's pretend play. In Hall, K., Bucholtz, M. & Moonwomon, B. (eds), Locating power: proceedings of the second Berkeley women and language conference 2, 326–37. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Women and Language Group.
Kyratzis, A. (2001). Emotion talk in preschool same-sex friendship groups: fluidity over time and context. In Budwig, N. (ed.), Language socialization and children's entry into schooling [Special issue]. Early Education and Development 12, 359–91.
Kyratzis, A. & Guo, J. (2001). Preschool girls' and boys' verbal conflict strategies in the U.S. and China: cross-cultural and contextual considerations. In Kyratzis, A., Gender construction in children's interactions: a cultural perspective [Special issue]. Research on Language and Social Interaction 34, 4574.
Maltz, D. N. & Borker, R. A. (1982). A cultural approach to male–female miscommunication. In Gumperz, J. J. (ed.), Language and social identity, 195216. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Matthiessen, C. & Thompson, S. A. (1988). The structure of discourse and ‘subordination’. In Haiman, J. & Thompson, S. A.Clause combining in grammar and discourse, 275329. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Nakamura, K. (2001). Gender and language use in Japanese preschool children. Research on Language and Social Interaction 34, 1544.
Ochs, E. (1996). Linguistic resources for socializing humanity. In Gumperz, J. J. & Levinson, S. C. (eds), Rethinking linguistic relativity, 407437. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ochs, E., Taylor, C., Rudolph, D. & Smith, R. (1992). Story-telling as a theory building activity. Discourse Processes 15, 3772.
Orsolini, M. (1993). ‘Dwarfs do not shoot’: an analysis of children's justifications. Cognition and Instruction 11, 287–97.
Shatz, M. (1994). A toddler's life: becoming a person. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Sheldon, A. (1990). Pickle fights: gendered talk in preschool disputes. Discourse Processes 13, 531. Reprinted in D. Tannen (ed.) (1993), Gender and conversational interaction, 83109. Oxford: Oxford University Press [page numbers in text refer to reprint].
Slobin, D. I. (1985). Crosslinguistic evidence for the Language-Making Capacity. In Slobin, D. I. (ed.), The cross-linguistic study of language acquisition, volume 2; Theoretical issues, 1157–256. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play: girls and boys in school. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Veneziano, E. (2001). Interactional processes in the origins of the explaining capacity. In Nelson, K. E.., Aksu-Koc, A. & Johnson, C. (eds), Children's language: developing narrative and discourse competence, Vol. 10, 113141. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Veneziano, E. (2002). Language in pretense in the second year: what it can tell us about ‘pretending’ in pretense and the ‘know-how’ about the mind. In Mitchell, R. W. (ed.), Pretending and imagination in animals and children, 5872. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Veneziano, E. & Sinclair, H. (1995). Functional changes in early child language: the appearance of references to the past and of explanations. Journal of Child Language 22, 557–81.
Wellman, H. M. & Gelman, S. A. (1992). Cognitive development: foundational theories of core domains. Annual Review of Psychology 43, 337–75.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed