Children's asymmetrical responses

Abstract

In this paper, we discuss the findings of two case studies of children’s semantic competence using sentences that contain the universal quantifier every. Children’s understanding of universal quantification, or lack of it, is probably the most controversial topic in current research on young children’s semantic competence. Even among researchers who draw upon linguistic theory in their investigations of child language, there seems to be a general consensus that preschool and even school-age children make ‘errors’ in interpreting sentences with the universal quantifier, and that these ‘errors’ reveal non-adult grammatical knowledge of universal quantification. However, a handful of studies have recently demonstrated children’s knowledge of several aspects of universal quantification, and the present paper adds to that growing body of work. The studies we discuss assess preschool children’s awareness that the two arguments of the universal quantifier have different interpretative properties, because the restrictor of every (NP) is downward entailing, whereas its nuclear scope (VP) is upward entailing. The experimental findings of the present studies are difficult to reconcile on recent analyses that attribute non-adult grammatical knowledge to children. However, the findings fit well with the view that children’s grammars are essentially the same as those of adults, as the Continuity Assumption supposes.

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2009-01-28

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