Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
Some subordinating conjunctions reveal whether speakers believe the propositions the conjunctions connect and how speakers believe propositions are connected. Because and although express belief; if + indicative and unless uncertainty, and if + subjunctive, disbelief. Because, if + indicative and if + subjunctive express a positive entailment relation between clauses while although and unless express negative entailment. To validate this analysis a comprehension task was administered to 96 subjects divided among 9-, 11- and 19-year-olds. Nine-year-olds understood although and because while adults also comprehended unless and if + indicative. Generally the more positive beliefs the conjunction embodied, the easier its comprehension. The order of difficulty was because, although, if + indicative, unless, and if + subjunctive. Older subjects more often confused if + subjunctive with if + indicative. Understanding of the uncertainty conveyed by if + indicative and unless was linked to performance on a task of detecting uncertain outcomes.
The co-operation of the directors, campers, and counsellors of Potomac Day Camp is gratefully acknowledged. Additionally we appreciated the assistance of Myron I. Scholnick, who tape recorded the verbal material. Address for correspondence: Ellin K. Scholnick, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, U.S.A.