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6. Subject-object asymmetry in children's comprehension of sentences containing logical words

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Abstract

This chapter investigates the influence of syntax, semantics and pragmatics on children’s understanding of sentences containing <i>some </i>and <i>or, </i>showing a subjectobject asymmetry<i>. </i>Chierchia, Crain, Guasti and Thornton (1998) showed that once the scalar implicature is erased (in the prediction mode), children accept that <i>some </i>could mean <i>every </i>(75%)<i>, </i>and <i>or </i>could mean <i>and </i>(nearly 100%)<i>. </i>40 Hebrew-speaking children aged 3–6 were tested using <i>eyzeshehu yeled </i>for<i>some boy </i>and <i>o </i>for <i>or</i>: 22 in the description mode and 18 in the prediction mode. Children accepted the use of inclusive <i>or </i>in the prediction mode (96%) but far less in the description mode (37%). For <i>some, </i>a subject-object asymmetry was found in both modes. In the prediction mode, the implicature was always erased in direct object position, but in subject position the implicature was only erased 40% of the times. Similarly, in the description mode, the scalar implicature was derived in two thirds of the cases in subject position, but in only a third of the cases in object position. This suggests that syntactic position contributes to children’s comprehension of sentences containing logical words and that both the difference between <i>some </i>and <i>or </i>and the subject-object asymmetry stem from specificity, a pragmatic condition which affects reference.

References

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