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Memory for generic and quantified sentences in Spanish-speaking children and adults



Generic language ( Owls eat at night) expresses knowledge about categories and may represent a cognitively default mode of generalization. English-speaking children and adults more accurately recall generic than quantified sentences ( All owls eat at night) and tend to recall quantified sentences as generic. However, generics in English are shorter than quantified sentences, and may be better recalled for this reason. The present study provided a new test of the issue in Spanish, where generics are expressed with an additional linguistic element not found in certain quantified sentences ( Los búhos comen de noche ‘Owls eat at night’ [generic] vs. Muchos búhos comen de noche ‘Many owls eat at night’ [quantified]). Both preschoolers and adults recalled generics more accurately than quantified sentences, and quantified sentences were more often recalled as generic than the reverse. These findings provide strong additional evidence for generics as a cognitive default, in an understudied cultural context.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Susan A. Gelman, Department of Psychology, 530 Church St., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI 48109-1043. e-mail:


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Journal of Child Language
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