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The interpretation of sentences with disjunction by child and adult speakers of Mandarin

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:56 authored by Na Gao
It has been proposed that there is a gap between the linguistic data language learners are exposed to and the linguistic competence they achieve in just a few years. This has been called 'Plato's Problem,' or the 'poverty - of - the - stimulus.' Noam Chomsky pro poses that this gap is filled by linguistic knowledge that is not learned; knowledge that originates in the human mind itself. The present thesis investigates the degree to which Mandarin - speaking children's understanding of sentences with disjunction is likely to be learned from adult input. Chapter 1 reviews the broad themes of the thesis, including the relevant theoretical foundations and a review of cross - linguistic empirical findings from studies of children's interpretation of sentences with disjunction. Chapter 2 presents a study investigating how Mandarin - speaking children and adults interpret negative sentences with disjunction where the disjunction phrase appears in a preverbal position. The conclusion from this study is that children and adults exhibit different scope preferences in response to sentences with disjunction either preceding or following negation. To explain the differences between children and adults, we follow previous literature in supposing that adults analyze disjunction as a polarity sensitive expression, which cannot be interpreted as being inside the scope of negation. Chapter 3 reports the findings of a study examining how Mandarin - speaking children and adults interpret disjunction in sentences with a universal quantifier. The findings indicate that children 'reconstruct' the disjunction phrase, whereas adults do not. Chapter 4 introduces a linguistic structure that cancels the polarity sensitivity of disjunction in Mandarin. In addition, that study investigates the interpretations assigned to disjunction by Mandarin - speaking children and adults in negative sentences with either overt or covert disjunction. The findings confirm that Mandarin - speaking adults, but not children, analyze disjunction as a polarity sensitive expression. The study reveals th at children and adults generate the same scope assignments in VP ellipsis structures, which neutralize the polarity sensitivity of disjunction. Chapter 5 summarizes the conclusions of the three experimental studies. The thesis presents evidence that child speakers of Mandarin have acquired certain abstract knowledge of language that is unlikely to have been learned from the linguistic data available to them.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction -- Chapter 2: Differences in scope assignments for child and adult speakers of Mandarin -- Chapter 3: Disjunction and universal quantification in Mandarin -- Chapter 4: The interpretation of disjunction in VP Ellipsis in Mandarin Chinese -- Chapter 5: Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 219-228

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Cognitive Science

Department, Centre or School

Department of Cognitive Science

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Stephen Crain


Copyright Na Gao, 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




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