Parsing, Grammar, and the Challenge of Raising Children at LF

In Edward Gibson & Neal J. Pearlmutter (eds.), The Processing and Acquisition of Reference. MIT Press. pp. 109 (2011)
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Abstract

This chapter explores parsing and grammar in children, with an emphasis on how children resolve sentences with ambiguous scope. It focuses on an ambiguity involving the universal quantifier every in subject position along with a negated main predicate, as in the sentence “Every horse didn’t jump over the fence.” One interpretation of this sentence is the “surface-scope” interpretation, which views the expression every horse as a reference to all the horses in the set; thus, each horse in the set did not jump over the fence. Another interpretation is the “inverse-scope” interpretation, whereby some horses jumped over the fence while others did not. The chapter presents evidence suggesting that children tend to prefer the surface-scope interpretation and cannot obtain the inverse-scope interpretation. In other words, children systematically use the surface position of the relevant quantificational elements to determine scope relations. The chapter also discusses negation and quantified noun phrases, along with isomorphism. Finally, it discusses the implications of these findings for language development and sentence processing.

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