Skip to main content
39. Young Children’s Difficulty with Indirect Speech Acts: Implications for Questioning Child Witnesses
Behavioral Sciences & the Law (2014)
  • Angela D. Evans, Brock University
  • Stacia N. Stolzenberg, University of Southern California
  • Kang Lee, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Thomas D. Lyon, University of Southern California
Prior research suggests that infelicitous choice of questions can significantly underestimate children’s actual abilities, independently of suggestiveness. One possibly difficult question type is indirect speech acts such as “Do you know…” questions (DYK, e.g., “Do you know where it happened?”). These questions directly ask if respondents know, while indirectly asking what respondents know. If respondents answer “yes,” but fail to elaborate, they are either ignoring or failing to recognize the indirect question (known as pragmatic failure). Two studies examined the effect of indirect speech acts on maltreated and non-maltreated 2- to 7-year-olds’ post-event interview responses. Children were read a story and later interviewed using DYK and Wh- questions. Additionally, children completed a series of executive functioning tasks. Both studies revealed that using DYK questions increases the chances of pragmatic failure, particularly for younger children and those with lower inhibitory control skills.
  • child witnesses,
  • child abuse,
  • child neglect,
  • child development,
  • child psychology
Publication Date
October 27, 2014
Citation Information
Evans, A. D., Stolzenberg, S., Lee, K., & Lyon, T. D. (2014). Young children's difficulty with indirect speech acts: Implications for questioning child witnesses. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 32, 775-788.