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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02329

Children's acquisition of homogeneity in plural definite descriptions

 Lyn Tieu1, 2*, Manuel Križ3 and  Emmanuel Chemla4, 5, 6
  • 1Western Sydney University, Australia
  • 2Macquarie University, Australia
  • 3University of Vienna, Austria
  • 4UMR8554 Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique (LSCP), France
  • 5Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France
  • 6Ecole Normale Supérieure, PSL Research University, France

Plural definite descriptions give rise to homogeneity effects: the positive "The trucks are blue" and the negative "The trucks aren't blue" are both neither true nor false when some of the trucks are blue and some are not, that is, when the group of trucks is not homogeneous with respect to the property of being blue (Löbner 1987, 2000; Schwarzschild 1994; Križ 2015c). The only existing acquisition studies related to the phenomenon have examined children's comprehension only of the affirmative versions of such sentences, and moreover have yielded conflicting data; while one study reports that preschoolers interpret definite plurals maximally (Munn et al. 2006, see also Royle et al. 2018), two other studies report that preschoolers allow non-maximal interpretations of definite plurals where adults do not (Karmiloff-Smith 1979; Caponigro et al. 2012). Moreover, there is no agreed upon developmental trajectory to adult homogeneity. In this paper, we turn to acquisition data to investigate the predictions of a recent analysis of homogeneity that treats homogeneous meanings as the result of a scalar implicature (Magri 2014). We conducted two experiments targeting 4- and 5-year-old French-speaking children's interpretations of plural definite descriptions in positive and negative sentences, and tested the same children on standard cases of scalar implicature. The experiments revealed three distinct subgroups of children: those who interpreted the plural definite descriptions existentially and failed to compute implicatures; those who both accessed homogeneous interpretations and computed implicatures; and finally, a smaller subgroup of children who appeared to access homogeneous interpretations without computing implicatures. We discuss the implications of our findings, which appear to speak against the implicature theory as the adult-like means of generating homogeneous meanings.

Keywords: homogeneity, language acquisition, alternatives, scalar implicature, Definite descriptions, quantification, Plurals

Received: 02 Apr 2019; Accepted: 30 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Tieu, Križ and Chemla. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mx. Lyn Tieu, Western Sydney University, Penrith, 2751, New South Wales, Australia,