Pragmatics and spatial language: The acquisition of <em>front</em> and <em>back</em>.

Across languages, children produce locative back earlier and more frequently than front, but the reasons for this asymmetry are unclear. On a semantic misanalysis explanation, early meanings for front and back are nonadult (nongeometric), and rely on notions of visibility and occlusion respectively. On an alternative, pragmatic inference explanation, visibility and occlusion are simply pragmatic aspects of the meaning of front and back; the profile of back can be explained by the fact that occlusion is more noteworthy compared with visibility. We used cross-linguistic data to test these two hypotheses. In Experiment 1, we examined the production and comprehension of front/back by 3- and 4-year-old children and adults speaking two different languages (English and Greek). Children, unlike adults, used back more frequently than front in both languages; however, no such asymmetry surfaced in the comprehension of the two prepositions. In Experiment 2, both adults and children from the same language groups showed the front/back asymmetry when describing a more variable battery of spatial stimuli. Our results support the pragmatic inference hypothesis. We conclude that the emergence of spatial terms does not solely index semantic development but may be linked to pragmatic factors that also shape adults’ production of spatial language cross-linguistically. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)