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Let’s pretend: an investigation of the language used during children’s collaborative pretend play D’Orazio, Diana Patrizia


This research examined preschool children’s use of language during social pretend play. Specifically, the ways in which language serves to (a) create and maintain a fantasy world, and (b) maintain a conversational interaction were compared across two age groups. Twelve children were paired and the six dyads were split into two age groups -- the mean age for each group was 3;1O and 5;1, respectively. Transcribed pretend play conversations were analyzed at the utterance level for specific content and for the children’s speaker identity. At the turn exchange level, the dialogue was examined in terms of discourse continuity and nature of collaboration. Preschool children use language to coordinate their independent pretend ideas. They create and sustain a novel, fictional reality by responding to, and building on, their partner’s ideas and actions as the play unfolds. Similarities in the use of language among the children in the two age groups provided information about the character of social pretend play. The majority of language used during pretend play was devoted to its construction and maintenance, rather than to the enactment of the pretend play. All children demonstrated the ability to talk about pretending and the pretend world while simultaneously assuming a fictional identity, as well as while holding their everyday identity. Most in-role collaboration consisted of elaboration of the play by expanding the partner’s contributions. In contrast, out-of-role collaboration involved negotiation for the resolution of disagreements. During pretend play, all children demonstrated the ability to relate to one another by providing a contingent response about half of the time, and by obliging the partner to respond approximately one third of the time. Additionally, the results suggested a developmental progression in the children’s ability to direct the play while simultaneously assuming a fictional identity. Older children produced a higher proportion of in-role communication for the construction and maintenance of the pretend world than younger children. As well, older children collaborated within the play frame more than younger children.

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