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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

17 - Universal quantification in child grammar

from Part I - Language acquisition
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Summary

Abstract

It is argued that quantifier spreading is a general phenomenon which is found in a certain young age group crosslinguistically. The occurrence of these errors can be analyzed in two different ways, linguistically and cognitively. The experimental data which indicate that children are sensitive to positional and structural cues of the syntax of quantifiers support a linguistic interpretation of the phenomenon. On the other hand, it can be counted as a clearly cognitive phenomenon because the visual input, the picture, plays a key role in the children's conceptual representation. The functional category of determiner phrase (DP) seems not to be completely developed at this stage and thus the D-element is freely detached from the category which it belongs to and raised to the highest position to range over all arguments available in the picture and the sentence.

Children's universal quantification is unique. This uniqueness comes from the difference between their interpretation and adults' interpretation on constructions with universal quantifiers. For example, to the English question Is every bear holding a honey-pot? with the given context (three bears are each holding a honey-pot, and there is a fourth, unheld, honey-pot), children, unlike adults, tend to give a negative response. They insist on saying “no” because one honey-pot is left out, not being held by a bear. They demand one-to-one correspondence between the agent ‘bear’ and the object ‘honey-pot’.