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Previous developmental studies of conjunction have focused on the syntax of phrasal and sentential coordination (Lust, 1977; de Villiers, Tager-Flusberg & Hakuta, 1977; Bloom, Lahey, Hood, Lifter & Fiess, 1980, among others). The present study examined the flexibility of children's interpretation of conjunction. Specifically, when two predicates that can apply simultaneously to a single individual are conjoined in the scope of a plural definite (The bears are big and white), conjunction receives a Boolean, intersective interpretation. However, when the conjoined predicates cannot apply simultaneously to an individual (The bears are big and small), conjunction receives a weaker ‘split’ interpretation (Krifka, 1990; Lasersohn, 1995; Winter, 1996). Our experiments reveal that preschool-aged children are sensitive to both intersective and split interpretations, and can use their lexical and world knowledge of the relevant predicates in order to select an appropriate reading.
We tested 3- to 5-year-old English- and Mandarin-speaking children on their interpretation of sentences like The elephant didn't eat both the carrot and the capsicum. These sentences are scopally ambiguous. Adult English speakers favor a weak interpretation of such sentences, with negation taking scope over conjunction (i.e., the elephant probably ate one of the vegetables, but not both). In contrast, adult Mandarin speakers favor a strong interpretation of the corresponding Mandarin sentences, with conjunction taking scope over negation (i.e., the elephant ate neither vegetable). The semantic subset maxim (Notley, Zhou, Jensen, & Crain, 2012) predicts that children acquiring all human languages should initially prefer the strong (subset) reading of such sentences. In contrast, the question–answer requirement model (Gualmini, Hulsey, Hacquard, & Fox, 2008; Hulsey, Hacquard, Fox, & Gualmini, 2004) predicts that children should initially prefer the scope reading that constitutes a good true answer to a question under discussion in the context. We designed a task in which the weak reading of our sentences corresponded to a good true answer to the question under discussion. We found that children across languages nonetheless preferred to assign a strong interpretation to our test sentences, providing empirical support for the semantic subset maxim.
This study investigated how Turkish-speaking children and adults interpret negative sentences with disjunction (English or) and ones with conjunction (English and). The goal was to see whether Turkish-speaking children and adults assigned the same interpretation to both kinds of sentences and, if not, to determine the source of the differences. Turkish-speaking children and adults were found to assign different interpretations to negative sentences with disjunction just in case the nouns in the disjunction phrase were marked with accusative case. For children, negation took scope over disjunction regardless of case marking, whereas, for adults, disjunction took scope over negation if the disjunctive phrases were case marked. Both groups assigned the same interpretation to negative sentences with conjunction; both case-marked and non-case-marked conjunction phrases took scope over negation. The findings are taken as evidence for a ‘subset’ principle of language learnability that dictates children's initial scope assignments.
A universal property of natural language is that every language is able to express negation, i.e., every language has some device at its disposal to reverse the truth value of the propositional content of a sentence. The syntax of negation is indissolubly connected to the phenomenon of (negative) polarity. The second section of this chapter deals with the syntax of negative markers, and the third section deals with the syntax and semantics of (negative) polarity items. The chapter focuses specifically on negative concord (i.e., the phenomenon where multiple instances of morphosyntactic negation yield only one semantic negation), with special emphasis on the ambivalent nature of n-words. The various studies of the syntactic properties of negative markers (most notably Zanuttini's analyses of negative markers in Romance varieties) led to a much better understanding of what constrains the cross-linguistic variation that languages exhibit with respect to the expression of sentential negation.
The present study investigated Mandarin-speaking children's acquisition of the polarity sensitive item renhe ‘any’ in Mandarin Chinese. Like its English counterpart any, renhe can be used as a negative polarity item (NPI), or as a free choice (FC) item, and both the distribution and interpretation of renhe are governed by the same syntactic and semantic constraints as English any. Using a Truth Value Judgment Task, the present study tested five-year-old Mandarin-speaking children's comprehension of FC renhe in sentences containing the modal word neng ‘can’, and tested children's comprehension of NPI renhe in sentences containing the temporal conjunction zai…zhiqian ‘before’. Most children demonstrated knowledge of the interpretation of both FC renhe and NPI renhe despite a paucity of relevant adult input. Like adults, however, Mandarin-speaking children do not use renhe frequently in ordinary conversation, due to the availability of alternative colloquial expressions (wh-pronouns) that also convey children's intended meanings.
Logical nativists contend that human languages and their learners exhibit deep-seated regularities. Many of these regularities, or core linguistic principles, pertain to logical expressions, including both the basic meanings of logical expressions and the interpretations given to combinations of these expressions. Because core linguistic principles are candidates for innate specification, they are expected to meet the diagnostics of innateness. These diagnostics can, in turn, be used to distinguish the logical nativist approach from the experience-based approach. Let us briefly review these features.
First, linguistic phenomena governed by core linguistic principles are expected to be universal. Second, core linguistic principles are expected to range over several phenomena, including ones that may appear on the surface to be unrelated. If abstract principles pertain to clusters of facts that appear to be unrelated on the surface, then these principles provide a unique testing ground to distinguish the logical nativist approach from the experience-based approach, such as the constructivist model discussed in Chapter 2. Because the experience-based approach postulates shallow linguistic representations, it follows that the experience-based approach and logical nativism make radically different empirical predictions about the nature of language, and about the language acquisition process. For one thing, core linguistic principles are expected to be evident in children’s language as soon as they can be tested, even where children lack decisive evidence for them in the primary linguistic data.
English and Mandarin Chinese are typologically distinct languages, yet they share several core linguistic properties. These core properties govern the assignment of interpretations to logical expressions, individually and in combination. For example, both English and Mandarin have downward-entailing expressions. Downward-entailing expressions are important in teasing apart the alternative accounts of language acquisition, because such expressions tie together clusters of linguistic properties, including fixing the interpretation of disjunction. Both English and Mandarin possess logical expressions that are similar in meaning to the corresponding expressions in logic, including the inclusive-or interpretation of disjunction, to cite just one example. The inclusive-or interpretation of disjunction serves as the basic meaning of disjunction in classical logic and forms the basis for the logical entailments in de Morgan’s laws. The previous chapter reviewed several experimental investigations of children’s knowledge of the syntactic and semantic constraints on the interpretation of disjunction words (English or and Mandarin huozhe). The findings from these investigations demonstrated that, in responding to sentences with disjunction, children acquiring English and Mandarin (and Japanese) initially assigned interpretations that coincide with the laws of logic.
If downward entailment is an innate property of human languages, then we would expect downward-entailing expressions to also manifest another of its characteristic properties, both within and across languages, namely the licensing of negative polarity expressions such as any, ever, and at all, and their counterparts in other languages. Although the licensing of negative polarity items and the conjunctive entailment of disjunction appear to be unrelated, we observed in Chapter 1 that these linguistic phenomena are really variations on a theme, which explains why they are both associated with the class of downward-entailing expressions. The prediction that these expressions form a natural class in human languages has been confirmed, both within and across languages. In the present chapter, we report the findings of experimental investigations of children’s competence in producing and understanding polarity-sensitive items. As noted, polarity-sensitive items can be partitioned into negative polarity items, such as English any, and positive polarity items, such as English some. We review what we have found out from experimental investigations of the acquisition of both kinds of polarity-sensitive items. We begin with a brief discussion of their linguistic behavior in adult languages.
Over the past forty years, scientists have developed models of human reasoning based on the principle that human languages and classical logic involve fundamentally different concepts and different methods of interpretation. In The Emergence of Meaning Stephen Crain challenges this view, arguing that a common logical nativism underpins human language and logical reasoning. The approach which Crain takes is twofold. Firstly, he uncovers the underlying meanings of logical expressions and logical principles that appear in typologically different languages - English and Mandarin Chinese - and he demonstrates that these meanings and principles directly correspond to the expressions and structures of classical logic. Secondly he reports the findings of new experimental studies which investigate how children acquire the logical concepts of these languages. A step-by-step introduction to logic and a comprehensive review of the literature on child language acquisition make this work accessible to those unfamiliar with either field.
Child language acquisition proceeds without the benefit of the vast array of data available to linguists. In developing linguistic analyses, linguists consider many kinds of evidence that are not available to children, including cross- linguistic data, as well as both positive and negative evidence (i.e., the kinds of sentences that are ungrammatical in a particular language). These data permit linguists to disconfirm hypotheses, and formulate better ones. Despite the lack of cross-linguistic data and negative evidence in children’s experience, by the time they have reached their fourth birthday, every normal child has mastered many, perhaps most, of the linguistic and logical principles that have been uncovered by linguists and logicians over the past few decades of research.
The principles children master in the first few years of life include non-trivial generalizations. For example, we have seen that downward-entailing operators tie together clusters of apparently unrelated linguistic phenomena in particular languages, like English, and we have seen that the same phenomena are governed by downward- entailing operators in other languages around the globe. We have also seen that, although these phenomena appear unrelated at first glance, it turns out that, upon closer scrutiny, these phenomena are related at a deeper level of analysis. In the absence of an alternative account of these regularities – i.e., lacking a learning-theoretic account of how young children come to know these phenomena – it seems reasonable to conclude that humans are innately endowed with the universal principles and parameters of grammar, and that children only acquire languages that conform to these principles and parameters. Furthermore, many of these principles and parameters involve logical expressions and their interactions. So it is reasonable to suppose that logical principles and parameters (e.g., scope parameters) are part of the innate genetic endowment of the species.