Four-year-old children compute scalar implicatures in absence of epistemic reasoning

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Description: Children exhibit sophisticated mental state (epistemic) reasoning abilities from an early age, but it remains unclear what role these abilities play in the development of pragmatic inference in language acquisition. Here, we examined the role of epistemic reasoning in scalar implicature. Experiment 1 found that most 4-year-olds successfully computed a sub-type of scalar implicature (ad hoc implicatures), despite failing to compute so-called “ignorance implicatures”, a type of epistemic inference that Gricean models of pragmatics deem necessary for scalar implicature. In Experiment 2, we tested 4- and 5-year-old children, and replicated the finding that children compute ad hoc implicatures more readily than ignorance implicatures, and that children’s difficulties with ignorance implicature are unrelated to performance on Theory of Mind tasks.

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