Natural Language Semantics 24 (4):305-352 (2016)

R. Singh
Brock University
We present evidence that preschool children oftentimes understand disjunctive sentences as if they were conjunctive. The result holds for matrix disjunctions as well as disjunctions embedded under every. At the same time, there is evidence in the literature that children understand or as inclusive disjunction in downward-entailing contexts. We propose to explain this seemingly conflicting pattern of results by assuming that the child knows the inclusive disjunction semantics of or, and that the conjunctive inference is a scalar implicature. We make two assumptions about implicature computation in the child: that children access only a proper subset of the adult alternatives, and that children possess the adult capacity to strengthen sentences with implicatures. As a consequence, children are expected to sometimes not compute any implicatures at all, but in other cases they are expected to compute an implicature that is different from the adult implicature. We argue that the child’s conjunctive strengthening of disjunctive sentences realizes the latter possibility: the adult infers that the conjunction is false but the child infers that the conjunction is true. This behaviour is predicted when our assumptions about child development are coupled with the assumption that a covert exhaustive operator is responsible for strengthening in both the child and the adult. Specifically, children’s conjunctive strengthening is predicted to follow from the same mechanism used by adults to compute conjunctive free choice implicatures in response to disjunctive permission sentences. We furthermore argue that this parallel between the child and the adult extends to disambiguation preferences. In particular, we present evidence that children prefer to strengthen disjunctions to conjunctions, in matrix and embedded positions ; this result mirrors previous findings that adults prefer to compute free choice, at the root and under every. We propose a disambiguation strategy that explains the preference for conjunctive strengthening – by both the child and the adult – even though there is no general preference for exhaustification. Specifically, we propose that the preference for a conjunctive strengthening follows from a pragmatic preference for a complete answer to the Question Under Discussion.
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DOI 10.1007/s11050-016-9126-3
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References found in this work BETA

A Theory of Focus Interpretation.Mats Rooth - 1992 - Natural Language Semantics 1 (1):75-116.
Economy and Embedded Exhaustification.Danny Fox & Benjamin Spector - 2018 - Natural Language Semantics 26 (1):1-50.
Scalar Implicatures in Complex Sentences.Uli Sauerland - 2004 - Linguistics and Philosophy 27 (3):367-391.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Universal Density of Measurement.Danny Fox & Martin Hackl - 2006 - Linguistics and Philosophy 29 (5):537 - 586.
Free choice, simplification, and Innocent Inclusion.Moshe E. Bar-Lev & Danny Fox - 2020 - Natural Language Semantics 28 (3):175-223.
Strict and Non-Strict Negative Concord in Hungarian: A Unified Analysis.Anna Szabolcsi - 2018 - In Huba Bartos, Bánréti, M. Den Dikken & Váradi (eds.), Boundaries Crossed. Dordrecht: Springer.

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