This study investigates children's semantics of quantification by looking at sentences with the negative determiner. The results indicate that children often incorrectly judge sentences like No boy is hugging a dog true in contexts similar to those that give rise to classic 'quantifier-spreading,' namely when presented with a picture of boys each hugging a dog plus an extra dog. The proposed analysis treats the error not as grammatical but as pragmatic, when the child uses visual asymmetry as a pragmatic clue for how the domains of quantifiers, particularly the indefinite, should be restricted. Thus, the extra dog, as perceptually highly salient, may be construed as a singleton domain restriction for the indefinite, creating a 'wide-scope' indefinite reading. When interpreted this way, the sentence no boy is hugging a dog is judged true, while its universally quantified counterpart false. Natural discourse would supply means for correct delineation of the domain, as do some experimental conditions, which is why 'spreading' is limited to those types of experiments in which contextual paucity is combined with visual asymmetry.
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA)
edited by Alyona Belikova, Luisa Meroni, and Mari Umeda Table of contents
ISBN 978-1-57473-419-5 library binding
vii + 490 pages
publication date: 2007
published by Cascadilla Proceedings Project, Somerville, MA, USA