Acting Individually or Together? An Investigation of Children’s Development of Distributivity

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    One of the most fascinating questions in linguistics is how children acquire their native language. In general, children have fully acquired most aspects of their native language already by the age of 4 to 5. However, this is not the case for all linguistic aspects. For example, in case of sentences with plural expressions, children show very different interpretation patterns than adults, until the age of about 12. Take, for example, the sentence ‘The children received a trophy’. Adults typically interpret this sentence as if multiple children received one trophy together. Children up to 12 years old, on the other hand, prefer a situation in which each child received his or her own trophy. Why children develop the adult interpretation for these kinds of plural expressions quite late remains unclear. The main goal of this thesis was, therefore, to explain how children arrive at the adult interpretation of such expressions. This was investigated by several experiments with both adults and children aged 4 to 12 years old. The results of those experiments show that the intended interpretation cannot be determined solely from the sentence itself, but that it also requires reasoning about the intentions of the speaker that are not explicitly mentioned. This reasoning is particularly difficult for young children and the results of the experiments in this thesis show that the reasoning about the implicit intentions of the speaker is indeed the crucial aspect in the development of the adult interpretation pattern of plural expressions.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Hendriks, Petra, Supervisor
    • Spenader, Jennifer, Co-supervisor
    Award date31-May-2021
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Publication statusPublished - 2021

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