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The scope of logical expressions in child language

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:12 authored by Anna Notley
This thesis explores the way children choose to resolve certain kinds of semantic scope ambiguities. The aim is to answer two main questions: (i) which reading of scopally ambiguous sentences do children favour, if either? (ii) if children favour one reading, why do they do so? Several hypotheses have been put forward to account for what we currently know about children's scope preferences, suggesting different answers to (i) and (ii) above. The main contribution of this thesis is to reformulate one of these hypotheses to address some of its observed shortcomings, and to test the predictions of the new formulation on three sentence types that have not yet been investigated in the previous literature. These are sentences containing (a) the temporal conjunction before and disjunction (e.g. The dog reached the finish line before the turtle or the bunny), (b) negation and conjunction (e.g. The elephant did not eat both the carrot and the capsicum), and (c) the compound quantifier not every and disjunction (e.g. Not every princess took a star or a shell). Each of these sentence types gives rise to two possible scope interpretations, although languages can vary as to which of these readings is preferred. We present the results of three major studies (and two supporting studies) to determine which of the possible scope interpretations children prefer for each of these sentence types. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the scope preference hypotheses. Chapter 2 looks at English- and Mandarin-speaking children's interpretative preferences for sentence type (a). Chapter 3 investigates children's interpretation of the pre-subject focus operator 'only'. These findings inform our experimental design in Chapter 4, which examines English- and Mandarin-speaking children's interpretative preferences for sentence type (b). Chapter 5 investigates children's interpretation of the universal quantifier 'every'. These findings inform our experimental design in Chapter 6, which examines English-speaking children's interpretative preferences for sentence type (c). Chapter 6 also explores how logical principles underpin the scope interpretations available in sentences (a)-(c), and whether children are sensitive to these principles. In Chapter 7, we discuss the implications of the findings for current accounts of children's scope preference and we offer answers to the two main questions of this thesis.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Children's interpretation of disjunction in the scope of 'before': a comparison of English and Mandarin -- 3. Children's interpretation of focus expressions in English and Mandarin -- 4. Children's interpretation of conjunction in the scope of negation in English and Mandarin: new evidence for the semantic subset maxim -- 5. The early stages of universal quantification -- 6. English-speaking children's interpretation of disjunction in the scope of 'not every' -- 7. Conclusion -- Appendix.


"A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy" "Submitted November 2011" Thesis by publication. Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Stephen Crain

Additional Supervisor 1

Rosalind Thornton


Copyright disclaimer: http://www.copyright.mq.edu.au Copyright Anna Notley 2012.




1 online resource (xii, 319 pages) illustrations (some coloured)

Former Identifiers

mq:37386 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/337447 2065907