Two experiments were designed to test five-year-olds' understanding of the pragmatics of epistemic modality. The first experiment showed that children were generally successful in judging an informationally stronger modal statement as a more appropriate description of a story outcome than a true but underinformative one. The second experiment revealed that sensitivity to the link between a modal statement and speaker certainty is prone to situational variables such as the positive or negative consequences of the modal statement. We conclude that young children are capable of treating modal statements not only logically, as prior literature suggests, but also pragmatically. This ability shows that children possess at least some key components required for the calculation of conversational implicatures.
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA)
edited by Alyona Belikova, Luisa Meroni, and Mari Umeda
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