Children's acquisition of homogeneity in plural definite descriptions

Lyn Tieu*, Manuel Križ, Emmanuel Chemla

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


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, 2015b). 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2329
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • homogeneity
  • language acquisition
  • alternatives
  • scalar implicature
  • definite descriptions
  • quantification
  • plurals
  • maximality


Dive into the research topics of 'Children's acquisition of homogeneity in plural definite descriptions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this