The trouble with quantifiers: Exploring children’s deficits in scalar implicature

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Description: Adults routinely use the context of utterances to infer a meaning beyond the literal semantics of their words (e.g., inferring from “She ate some of the cookies” that she ate some, but not all). Contrasting children’s (N = 209) comprehension of scalar implicatures using quantifiers with contextually-derived ad-hoc implicatures revealed that four– to five–year-olds reliably computed ad-hoc, but not scalar, implicatures (Experiment 1). Unexpectedly, performance with “some” and “none” was correlated (Experiments 1 and 2). An individual differences study revealed a correlation between quantifier knowledge and implicature success (Experiment 3); a control study ruled out other factors (Experiment 4). These findings suggest some failures with scalar implicatures may be rooted in a lack of semantic knowledge rather than general pragmatic or processing demands.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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