Conversational topics of 4-year-olds

D. Schober-Peterson, Cynthia Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Young children's ability to participate on conversation has been of particular interest in the study of pragmatic aspects of language. In this study, topics of conversation were investigated by videotaping 10 dyads of 4-year-old children during play. Ten-minute samples were analyzed according to a number of topic-dependent measures. Results revealed that all dyads evidenced some lengthy topics (13-91 utterances). Longer topics were characterized by three text-level functions: Enacting Scenarios, Describing, and Problem Solving. Nevertheless, three fourths of all dialogues were considered relatively short. Generally, partners contributed equally to dialogue, but in some dyads, 1 child dominated initiation. Findings of the study suggest that 4-year-olds are capable of extended participation in dialogue, at least part of the time. Naturalistic play settings may elicit samples of conversation that are representative of preschoolers' ability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)857-870
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech and Hearing Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989


  • Conversational skills
  • Language development
  • Pragmatic development
  • Preschool language
  • Topic maintenance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Health Professions(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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