How adults and children interpret disjunction under negation in Dutch, French, Hungarian and Italian: A cross-linguistic comparison

Elena Pagliarini*, Oana Lungu, Angeliek van Hout, Lilla Pintér, Balázs Surányi, Stephen Crain, Maria Teresa Guasti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

In English, a sentence like “The cat didn’t eat the carrot or the pepper” typically
receives a “neither” interpretation; in Japanese it receives a “not this or not
that” interpretation. These two interpretations are in a subset/superset relation,
such that the “neither” interpretation (strong reading) asymmetrically
entails the “not this or not that” interpretation (weak reading). This asymmetrical
entailment raises a learnability problem. According to the Semantic
Subset Principle, all language learners, regardless of the language they are
exposed to, start by assigning the strong reading, since this interpretation
makes such sentences true in the narrowest range of circumstances.). If the
“neither” interpretation is children’s initial hypothesis, then children acquiring
a superset language will be able to revise their initial hypothesis on the
basis of positive evidence.
The aim of the present study is to test an additional account proposed by
Pagliarini, Crain, Guasti (2018) as a possible explanation for the earlier convergence to the adult grammar by Italian children. The hypothesis tested
here is that the presence of a lexical form such as recursive né that unambiguously conveys a “neither” meaning, would lead children to converge
earlier to the adult grammar due to a blocking e!ect of the recursive né form
in the inventory of negated disjunction forms in a language. We compared
data from Italian (taken from Pagliarini, Crain, Guasti, 2018), French,
Hungarian and Dutch. Dutch was tested as baseline language. French and
Hungarian have – similarly to Italian – a lexical form that unambiguously
expresses the “neither” interpretation (ni ni and sem sem, respectively). Our
results did not support this hypothesis however, and are discussed in the
light of language-specifc particularities of the syntax and semantics of
negation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-122
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Volume18
Issue number1
Early online date21-Sep-2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Keywords

  • language acquisition, disjunction under negation

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