Table of Contents    
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 35-42  

Judgment of pragmatic abilities: A story-based assessment in adolescents

1 Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India
2 Father Muller College of Speech and Hearing, Father Muller Road, Kankanady, Mangalore, India
3 Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission15-Jun-2020
Date of Decision29-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance23-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication27-Jan-2021

Correspondence Address:
Malavika Anakkathil Anil
Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jnsbm.JNSBM_114_20

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Background: Adolescents start to understand nonliteral language and begin to use language to maintain social bonds in varying social contexts. Aim: This study aims to profile pragmatic judgment abilities in typically developing adolescents. Materials and Methods: The present study was conducted on 120 typically developing adolescents across the age range of 10–16 years. The formulated story consisted of 29 multiple-choice judgment questions to assess an adolescent's ability to judge the use of pragmatics skills by different characters in the story. Results: There was a statistically significant difference between the groups determined by the one-way analysis of variance (F [5114] =4.83, P = 0.00). Conclusion: With increasing grades, adolescents spend a reasonable time socializing with peers and others, promoting the development of pragmatic skills. As children and adolescents grow, perceptions of others improve, along with their ability to identify the complexity of contentious topics and differing points of view.

Keywords: Adolescent, judgment, pragmatics

How to cite this article:
Anil MA, Thayana E, Bhat JS. Judgment of pragmatic abilities: A story-based assessment in adolescents. J Nat Sc Biol Med 2021;12:35-42

How to cite this URL:
Anil MA, Thayana E, Bhat JS. Judgment of pragmatic abilities: A story-based assessment in adolescents. J Nat Sc Biol Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Jun 16];12:35-42. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Pragmatic deficits are becoming an academic and social reality for an increasing number of adolescents worldwide. Pragmatic impairments may impair the ability to adhere to the needs of the conversational partner, make appropriate inferences, give socially appropriate responses as well as infer language in a literal manner.[1] Understanding pragmatic deficits are relevant clinically as they can negatively influence the development of successful peer relationships and can detrimentally impact the quality of life.[2] Significant deficits in receptive and expressive pragmatic skills are observed in adolescents with autism-spectrum disorders,[3] learning disability,[4] and specific language impairment.[5]

Several pragmatic assessment tools have been developed to evaluate the components of pragmatics in the Western population. Assessment tools developed to assess pragmatics in children are the test of pragmatic language 2nd ed.ition[6] and Pragmatic Language Skills Inventory.[7] Besides standardized tests, questionnaires, checklists, and profiles to assess pragmatic skills are also available.[8],[9] Indian assessment tools such as the Manipal Manual of adolescent language assessment includes a section on higher linguistic skills (figurative language).[10] Similarly, the pragmatic language abilities in Indian adolescents were assessed using ingenious visual-based scenes.[11] Given the limited focus on the assessment of pragmatic skills in India, there is a need to develop a culturally sensitive pragmatic assessment tool.

A story-based assessment of pragmatic skills has also proven to be beneficial by previous studies done on pragmatics.[12],[13] An investigation was conducted on the degree to which verbal irony, hyperbole, and literal comments scenarios were used, similar to stories to assess pragmatic functions.[12] Similarly, a study on typically developing children and children with autism-spectrum disorder used socially and pragmatically challenging scenarios as a story, from which questions were asked to assess pragmatic skills.[13] Researchers have shown that children and adolescents provide an appropriate interpretation of figurative language when the explanations are presented in the linguistic contexts such as in a story than in nonsupportive contexts or isolation.[14] Having understood the crucial role that stories play during the adolescent period, a story-based assessment of pragmatic skills was incorporated in the present study, with a focus on the educational and communicative contexts that they are exposed to. The study aimed at assessing judgment-based pragmatic abilities using a story-based assessment in typically developing adolescents across the grades as well as across Piaget's stages of cognitive development. The specific objectives were to compare across the grades and to analyze the differences in performance in specific domains (figurative language, social reasoning, perception of the character's reaction, and perception of the character's responses) of judgment-based pragmatic abilities.

   Materials and Methods Top


This study followed a cross-sectional design with a non-randomized convenient sampling method. As the study focused on assessing the pragmatic skills in English, the selection of participants was from the English medium schools in Mangalore, which followed the Central Board of Secondary Education. The sample size calculation was in line with the study done by Ciccia and Turkstra[15] using the following formula N = Zα2/d2, where, Zα = 1.96 at 95% confidence level, α is standard deviation and d is mean. The Institutional Ethical Board of Kasturba Medical College, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, evaluated the research proposal, and ethical clearance was obtained before the initiation of the study (IEC KMC MLR 12-17/265 dated on December 20, 2017).

A total of 120 typically developing school-going adolescents (based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria) from the English medium schools across the Grade of V to X participated in the present study. The participants were divided into six groups with 1-year age intervals, with each group comprising of ten girls and ten boys. Participants who meet the age and standard criteria and those selected by the teachers based on the questionnaire for teachers[16] were included in the study. The questionnaire for teachers ruled out participants with scholastic, speech-language, ocular, acoustic, and cognitive difficulties. All the participants were studying in English medium schools that follow the Central Board of Secondary Education. Participants with a history/complaint of speech and language, communicative, oro-motor, neurologic, sensorimotor, cognitive, and academic difficulties, and those with a history of scholastic failures/transfer to more than one school were excluded from the present study.


The present study was conducted in two phases. The first phase comprised of formulation of a pragmatic assessment profile through focused group discussion with speech-language pathologists and literature review. A story stimulus was constructed with an adolescent as the central character of the story as it helps to match the stimulus with their interests, critical thinking abilities, cultural aspects, and knowledge. The various scenarios of the story revolved around the encounters, the main character of the story had in his social circle. The pragmatic skills that were appropriate for each scenario were included in the story. A total of seven scenes with seven different characters that belonged to three different social settings were depicted in the story as given in Appendix A. The various settings and characters encountered by the main character are given in [Table 1].
Table 1: The scenarios and the characters

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Assessment of pragmatic judgment abilities was done through a multiple-choice question task which assessed the pragmatic judgment abilities. The task required the adolescent to judge the actions of characters and events in response to the actions for each scenario. The multiple-choice questions assessed various concepts ranging from figurative language (metaphor and idiom), responses, reactions, behaviors, and reasoning of the characters of the story from an adolescent's perspective. The researcher formulated a total of 36 questions, where each question had three options from which the adolescent had to choose. The choices for each question had a correct option, an ambiguous option, and an option with conflicting meaning. A score of 1 was given for a correct answer, and a score of 0 was given for an ambiguous option as well as for the contradictory meaning option.

Content validation was done for the story, the tasks, and the scoring. Five speech-language pathologists with more than 5 years of experience scrutinized the stimuli for its effectiveness in tapping the pragmatic skills. The content validation for the story was done for word choice, story setting, grammar, and flow of information. The multiple-choice questions and scoring were content validated for their contextual relevance, grammar, and comprehensibility. The speech-language pathologists were asked to rate on a 5-point Likert scale where “1” indicated extremely irrelevant, “2” as irrelevant, “3” as can't say, “4” as relevant, and “5” as extremely relevant. The formula used for the calculation of the content validity index is given below.

Content validity = Number of Speech-Language Pathologists who rated the item as “3” or “4”

Total number of speech-language pathologists

Any question or option which got a score of more than 0.8 was considered in the final stimulus. The number of multiple-choice questions was reduced from 36 to 29 questions after content validation. The seven questions were dropped as they were judged to be complicated to comprehend for the selected grades during content validation. Out of the 29 multiple choice questions, eight questions checked judgment of figurative language (question number 1, 3, 4, 11, 12, 14, 20, and 22), four questions on social reasoning skills (question number 2, 7, 13, and 17), eight questions on participant's perception of the character's reaction (question number 9, 10, 18, 21, 23, 24, 25, and 26), and nine questions checked the participant's perception of the character's responses (question number 5, 6, 8, 15, 16, 19, 27, 28, and 29). The questions are detailed in Appendix A. The second phase consisted of administering the pragmatic profile on adolescents between the Grade of V to X. In this phase, the participant was asked to read the story and judge the 29 multiple-choice judgment questions that were formulated to assess the use of pragmatics skills of the different characters in the story.


Before the commencement of the procedure, permission was obtained from Block Education Officer of Mangalore Taluk to carry out the study in the Central Board of Secondary Education schools. The school authorities were informed about the aim of the study, and informed consent was obtained from each of the participants before their inclusion in the study. The administration was preceded with the collection of demographic details of the participants, which included details such as age, gender, class, and mother tongue. The testing commenced with the examiner providing the participant with the stimulus (story divided into seven scenarios) and the task sheet. The participants were instructed to read each scenario of the story carefully. They were given the option to reread the story in case of doubt. The participants were then instructed to complete the task for a given scenario.

Statistical analysis

The obtained data for each participant were scored, and the statistical analysis was done using the SPSS (17-version) IBM SPSS Statistics, Endicott, New York, United States to examine the developmental trend of the participants. Descriptive statistics were done to determine the mean and standard deviations. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and post hoc test were performed to compare the judgment-based pragmatic abilities across age groups at P > 0.05 significance level. A correlation analysis between age and scores was performed to understand the developmental trends.

   Results Top

The overall scores, as well as the domain-specific scores, were compared across grades. The findings are as follows:

Pragmatic judgement abilities across the Grades

Detailed statistical analysis revealed a developmental trend across the grades for pragmatic judgment skills. There was a statistically significant difference between the groups determined by one-way ANOVA (F (5114) =3.878, P = 0.00). A Bonferroni post hoc test revealed a statistically significant difference between the following grades: Grade V and X (P = 0.01), Grade VI and X (P = 0.02), and Grade VII and X (P = 0.04). The findings indicate a significant difference between the lowest grade versus the highest grade. A Pearson product-moment correlation was run to determine the relationship between grade and scores obtained. There was a weak positive correlation between grade and scores, which was statistically significant (r = 0.35, P = 0.00). [Table 2] depicts the mean score and standard deviation for judgment-based pragmatic abilities across the age group.
Table 2: Mean and standard deviation across the grade in judging pragmatic skills

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The data were also analyzed according to Piaget's stages of cognitive development. To analyze the data across Piaget's stages of cognitive development, the grades were grouped into two age bands, Age Band I corresponded to the concrete operational stage aged 10, 11 years (Grade V and VI), and Age Band II corresponded to the formal operational stage aged 12, 13, 14, and 15 years (Grade VII, VIII, IX, and X). An independent-samples t-test revealed a significant difference across Age Band I (M = 19.05, standard deviation [SD] = 5.03) and Age Band II (M = 21.25, SD = 4.05); t (118) =2.57, P = 0.01) in judging pragmatic skills.

Judgment abilities for figurative language, social reasoning, perception of the character's responses, and character's reaction across Grades

The analysis was carried out for the scores for each domain of multiple-choice questions, which are figurative language, social reasoning, perception of the character's reaction, and character's responses. There was a statistically significant difference as determined by one-way ANOVA, for figurative language (F (5114) = 3.87, P = 0.00), social reasoning skills (F (5114) = 2.37, P = 0.04), and perception of the character's responses (F (5114) = 5.29, P = 0.00). There was no significant difference observed for the perception of character's reaction (F (5114) = 1.13, P = 0.34). Bonferroni post hoc revealed a statistically significant difference between Grades IV and IX (P = 0.00); VIII and IX (P = 0.04) for figurative language. Although social reasoning skills showed an overall significance across the grades, Bonferroni post hoc revealed no statistical significance between groups in judging social reasoning skills. A statistically significant difference was observed between Grades V and IX (P = 0.00); VII and IX (P = 0.00) for the participant's perception of a character's response in the story. A Pearson product-moment correlation was run to determine the relationship between grade and figurative language, social reasoning, perception of the character's reaction, and character's responses. There was a weak positive correlation between grade and figurative language (r = 0.26, P = 0.00), grade and social reasoning (r = 0.26, P = 0.00), grade and perception of the character's responses (r = 0.30, P = 0.00), and very weak positive correlation between grade and perception of the character's reaction (r = 0.05, P = 0.58).

   Discussion Top

Pragmatic judgement abilities across the Grades

The findings revealed a significant difference between the lowest grade and the highest grade, with a nearly 30% correlation between grade and score. Stage-wise comparison of Piaget's stage of cognitive development between the adolescent's age 10, 11 years (Grade V and VI), and age 12, 13, 14, and 15 years (Grade VII, VIII, IX, and X) were also found to be significant, highlighting the progressive development of pragmatic judgment abilities in adolescents as they transition from the concrete operational to the formal operational stage.[17] Although elementary pragmatic skills appear reasonably at an early age, they advance and undergo steady development during the preadolescence and adolescence period.[18] Although age forms a small proportion contributing to the development of pragmatic skills, several other factors influence the pragmatic skills.

The efficient functioning of pragmatic skills requires the contribution of several cognitive domains, out of which three have received significant focus. First, proficiency in the usage of formal language, which includes vocabulary and grammar. Language is used as a primary tool of communication by an adolescent to gain entry into peer groups, which eventually becomes an essential source of personal identity. Second, adolescent spends a reasonable amount of time socializing with peers and others, that enable the ability to mentalize the mental state of oneself and that of others (Theory of Mind). Finally, higher cognitive skills, i. e., executive function, which is vital for the regulation of behavior, inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility, comes into picture when they transition from concrete operational to the formal operational stage.[19]

Judgment abilities for Figurative language, Social reasoning, Perception of the character's reaction, and Character's responses across Grades

The domain-specific scores were analyzed, which revealed several interesting findings, and the results are discussed below.

Figurative language-based judgments

The story-based assessment of pragmatic judgment abilities assessed the various figures of speech, such as personification, metaphor, idioms, irony, and slang, which was found to improve with age among adolescents in the present study. As children age, the growth in linguistic skills, knowledge of the world, and expertise of culture develop, which may be responsible for their improved comprehension of figurative language.[20] Complex verbal reasoning, which appears during adolescents, also enables them to look beyond the literal meaning to comprehend symbolic and multidimensional implications.[21] The acquisition of theory mind may also contribute to the parallel development of figurative language, due to the presumed ability to understand a speaker's figurative message.[22]

Reasoning-based judgments

Social reasoning refers to the capacity to perceive other's thoughts, feelings, intentions, perspectives, and attitudes. It is a perception of social relations and social interactions.[23] In the present study, there was an overall significant difference across the groups, which agrees with the findings of the study done by Demetriou and Bakracevic, who observed that spatial and propositional reasoning abilities reached complete development by early adolescence. In contrast, social reasoning abilities reached full development only by the middle adulthood.[24] This indicates that the development of social reasoning is subtle across the adolescent years, which can be the reason for not obtaining a significant difference between the age groups on post hoc tests in the current study.

Perception of the character's responses-based judgments

Perception of character's responses involved judging character responses that are predominantly guided by logic and reasoning. In the present study, the ability to judge character responses improved with age, with higher grades performing better. It agrees with the findings of the study by Dumontheil, Apperly, and Blakemore, where they observed a linear growth in the ability to use the information about another person's point of view in perspective-taking from childhood to adulthood.[25] Comparable findings were found by Bosco et al. on preadolescents and adolescents, where they observed the expected development of perspective-taking skills until 15 years of age.[26] Despite the prevalence of Theory of Mind in children as young as 2 years,[27] the exposure to a wide variety of social experiences during the adolescence period leads to better socio-cognitive skills.[28]

Perception of character's reaction-based judgments

Perception of a character's reaction involved judging character reactions that are characterized by impulsiveness, where the characters tended to respond without reflecting and evaluating the consequences.[29] Although there was no significant difference in the judgment of the character's reactions, it was observed that younger grades were less efficient in the perception of other's emotional or behavioral reactions in comparison to older grades. According to the theory of reasoned action,[30] the perception of the relationship between intention and behavior is lesser among younger age groups, in comparison to older age groups, which could be the reason why younger grades were less efficient in the perception of character's reaction.

   Summary and Conclusion Top

This study assessed the ability to judge the pragmatic skills using a story-based assessment in typically developing adolescents across the Grades of V to X. It was observed that the majority of adolescents were able to correctly judge the pragmatic skills in each scenario of the story, with an increase in score and performance with advancing age. Stage-wise comparison of Piaget's Stage of Cognitive Development was also found to be significant, highlighting the progressive development of pragmatic judgment abilities in adolescents as they transition from the concrete operational to the formal operational stage. Similarly, for the figurative language, social reasoning, perception of the character's reaction, and character's responses observed an increase in score with Grade. The efficient functioning of pragmatic skills with age can be attributed to several factors such as the proficiency in the usage of formal language, the ability to mentalize mental state to oneself and others (theory of mind) and development of higher cognitive skills (executive function), which is vital for the regulation of behavior, inhibition, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and others. This study can be extended to older adolescents as well as adolescents of different social classes.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   Appendix Top

Appendix A

Pragmatic judgment abilities in adolescents: A story-based assessment

©Reserved to Esmin Thayana, Malavika Anakkathil Anil, Jayashree S Bhat (2019)

Scene 1: I woke up to the loud knocking at the door. I knew it would be Rahul. I could hear him shout “Peter I'm going to kill you if we are going to be late for the tennis coaching.” I quickly opened the door. “Thanks for waking me up Rahul. Hey, you are looking quite handsome,” I said. “Thanks Peter might be because of my new t-shirt,” replied Rahul. “Hmm… or is it because you took bath today?” I quickly ran downstairs as I saw him lift a broom to hit me.

Scene 2: Knowing mom would say 'No' to go for tennis coaching as it was a bus strike I asked her “Mom can I go to Rahul's house?” “But how will you go?” Asked mom. “It's a bus strike mom, I can go by auto.” I replied. “But there would be protest and rally. Maybe you can go on Sunday.” “No Mom it would be fine.” I replied. Irritated mom said “I don't think Dad would let you go.” “Then why don't you drop me at his house?” I asked. “I will give you 10 minutes if you can get ready I'll drop you. Don't forget Maria's wedding reception tonight.” “Sure mom I will be on time.”

Scene 3: Our servant Malathi Akka was busy working in the kitchen. “Akka where is my shirt?” I asked. “You mean the one with white stripes on it? I don't think you can wear it. It's very dirty,” she replied. Stunned I said “Oh no, I'm going to get screwed for sure.” Looking up she said “Why don't you wear some other shirt?” “No Akka I can't wear any other shirt because I have to go for tennis coaching.” I said. Having no time I asked Malathi Akka to get my brother's tennis shirt. She replied “I have washed it and kept in his bedroom.” “Oh, that's so sweet of you Akka, thank you.”

Scene 4: We saw Rahul's mother and neighbor sitting at the entrance as we reached his house. “Hello aunty! When did you come back from New York?” Asked Rahul. Smiling Rahul's neighbor said “It's been one week.” “Oh Wow. How is New York?” He asked. “It's a beautiful place. That city never sleeps,” she replied. “I wish I could go for higher studies to New York,” Rahul said. “But I feel it's better to choose Australia. It's cheaper and they provide good education,” she said. “But I will get paid more if I work in New York” Rahul replied. “You will get a job in New York even if you study in Australia. My brother studied in Australia but works in New York.” Said Rahul's neighbor. “But I would still prefer New York.” He said. “As you wish Rahul.” Said neighbor.

Scene 5: We had a tennis tournament organized by our juniors. I saw one of my junior at coaching centre. “When will the practice begin?” I asked him. “We can begin it by next week,” he replied. “Why don't we start it by this week itself?” I asked. “Peter I feel one week's practice would be more than enough,” he said. “I don't think it would be enough,” I replied. “Then we can practice during free hours and lunch break. Is it fine?” He asked. “Hey everyone is waiting for you Peter” Rahul screamed from behind. Not wanting to continue the conversation I said to the junior “No I'm not ready to participate in a tournament organized at the last minute.”

Scene 6: Everything about the tournament bothered me as it's been a year since I played. A fight with my classmate Hari had led to this. All of a sudden that day's fight echoed in my ears. “Is this a Zoo?” Screamed the teacher. “Ma'am it is not my mistake. It was this stupid who started the fight” I shouted. “Peter I don't want to hear any excuses, I have told you several times not to fight.” “But ma'am I have done nothing wrong, it was him.” I pointed at Hari. “Was it right to fight back?” She asked angrily. “No ma'am I'm sorry,” I replied looking down. “I am fed up with you guys. I have taken a decision Peter; you won't be participating in the tennis tournament this year.”

Scene 7: Suddenly Rahul tapped me on the shoulder and said “Peter your mom called. She asked you to go to your aunt's house.” I quickly walked to the nearby auto stand. “Anna, can you take me to Krishna colony?” I asked the driver. “I don't think so….road construction is going on at Vidya Nagar” he replied. “Is Krishna colony very far from here?” I asked. “It takes around 25 minutes,” he replied. “Ok Anna. How far is Krishna colony from Vidya Nagar?” I asked. “It's just 10 min walk along Vidya Nagar main road,” he said. “So I can take a rickshaw till Vidya Nagar and then walk to Krishna colony?” I asked him. “Yeah that would be better,” he said. I got into the Auto.

Stimulus Sheet

©Reserved to Esmin Thayana, Malavika Anakkathil Anil, Jayashree S Bhat (2019)

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  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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