Children’s development of conversational and reading inference skills: a call for a collaborative approach

  • Elspeth Wilson (University of Cambridge)
  • Kate Cain orcid logo (Lancaster University)
  • Catherine Davies (University of Leeds)
  • Jenny Gibson orcid logo (University of Cambridge)
  • Holly Joseph orcid logo (University of Reading)
  • Ludovica Serratrice (University of Reading)
  • Margreet Vogelzang orcid logo (University of Cambridge)


In this perspectives article, we call for a collaborativeapproach to research on children’s development of conversational inferences andof reading inferences. Despite the clear commonalities in their focus, the tworich research traditions have remained almost entirely separate, primarily withinthe fields of Developmental Psychology and Experimental Pragmatics, on the onehand, and Cognitive, Developmental and Educational Psychology on the other. We brieflysurvey research on conversational and reading inferences, and show how bothsimilarities and differences in theoretical approach, methodologies andfindings raise significant questions, including: What effect does both context(conversation or reading) and modality (oral, visual, written) have on the needfor children to make inferences, and for the opportunities for them to learn todo so? And how do linguistic and background knowledge, sociocognitive andenvironmental factors support different inferences across contexts andmodalities? We propose that a collaborative agenda is crucial, in which interdisciplinaryresearchers develop theoretical models of how different types of inferencecluster together and are supported or affected by the context, modality, andother linguistic, sociocognitive and environmental factors. And they must also developmethodologies which enable reliable and valid measures of inferencing abilitythat can capture quantitative and qualitative changes across development. Ultimatelythis will contribute to better understanding of children’s pragmaticdevelopment as well as teaching and intervention practices in communication andreading comprehension. 

Keywords: pragmatic development, pragmatic inference, reading comprehension, reading inference

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Published on
29 Jan 2024
Peer Reviewed