Metalinguistic development in preschool: a longitudinal observation

Conny Gollek, Martin J. Doherty (Contributor), Lynne G. Duncan (Contributor)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentationpeer-review

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Objectives: Children’s false belief development has been documented thoroughly, the development of metalinguistic behaviour has not received similar attention. This longitudinal study explored children’s understanding of two metalinguistic tasks throughout preschool years in relation to general language skills and false belief understanding.
Design: Children undertook a series of false belief, metalinguistic and executive function tasks alongside standardised language measures at 4 times over the course of 34 months to observe emerging skills aged 3.5 until age 6.

Methods: The study started with 77 participants, and was continued at time 3 and 4 with 40 and 32 respectively. Children were part of a preschool language study, follow up was only possible with a smaller group.

Results: The association between false belief and metalinguistic tasks got progressively stronger (p<.05 at time 1 and p<.001 at time 4). General language correlated strongly with false belief (p<.001) and metalinguistic (p<.05) measures at time 1, weaker at time 2 and not at all after. Language emerged as significant predictor across all times only for future language skills in regression analysis. False belief and metalinguistic skills were predicted at time 4 from time 3 measures. The inclusion of executive function and deprivation data did not add significantly to any model.

Conclusion: There is a strong alignment of false belief, metalinguistic skills and general language skills (vocabulary, grammar) at age 3.5, which progressively weakens. An underlying factor between false belief understanding and the understanding of language from a representational perspective emerges then, as indicated through growing metalinguistic skills.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2019
EventBPS Cognitive Psychology Section & Developmental Psychology Section Joint Conference 2019 - Best Western Plus Stoke on Trent Moat House, Stoke On Trent, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Sept 20196 Sept 2019


ConferenceBPS Cognitive Psychology Section & Developmental Psychology Section Joint Conference 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityStoke On Trent
Internet address


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