Mandarin-speaking children's knowledge of entailments and inferences
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 01:20 authored by Haiquan Huang
Human languages contain the ingredients for logical reasoning. Consequently, part of the language acquisition process involves acquiring the meanings of basic logical expressions, and how these expressions interact with one another to yield different kinds of entailments and inferences. A central issue in linguistic research is whether or not children draw upon innate knowledge of logic in assigning meanings to logical expressions. This thesis investigates Mandarin-speaking children's knowledge of the entailments and inferences associated with a number of logical expressions, including the disjunction word huozhe 'or', the deontic modal verb keyi 'is allowed to', the negation markers bu/mei 'not', the focus adverb zhiyou 'only', the universal quantifier dou 'all', the polarity sensitive item renhe 'any' and wh-words like shei 'who'. These experimental investigations focus on three questions: (i) How children interpret simple sentences, i.e., ones with basic logical expressions; (ii) How children interpret complex sentences, i.e., ones that contain a combination of logical expressions; (iii) The extent to which the interpretations of children and adults are the same, or differ. These three questions are addressed in a series of experimental studies of children acquiring Mandarin. Chapter 1 introduces the main questions to be addressed in the thesis. Chapter 2 investigates when OR is assigned a conjunctive inference in child Mandarin. Chapter 3 investigates how Mandarin-speaking children interpret sentences with negation. Chapter 4 explores the meanings children assign to wh-words like shei in declarative and interrogative sentences with the quantificational adverb dou. Chapter 5 summarizes the main findings and discusses their implications for linguistic theory and for language learnability. The experimental findings suggest that although young children interpret certain complex sentences in the same way as adults do, children and adults assign different meanings in some cases. The findings that children differ from adults invite us to conclude that children do not learn logical expressions via adult input, but draw upon innate knowledge of logic -- abstract.