Children's knowledge of disjunction and universal quantification in mandarin Chinese

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Downward entailing linguistic environments license inferences from sets to their subsets. These enviromnents also determine the interpretation of disjunction: Disjunction licenses a conjunctive entailment in the scope of downward entailing operators (Grain 2008. 2012). This leads to a striking asymmetry across languages in the interpretation of disjunction when it appears in the restrictor (downward entailing) versus the nuclear scope (non-downward entailing) of the universal quantifier such as English every and Mandarin mei. The present study investigated Mandarin-speaking children's interpretation of the disjunction word huozhe in sentences with the universal quantifier mei. The main findings were that young Mandarin-speaking children assigned the conjunctive entailment to huozhe when it appeared in the restrictor of mei. Moreover, they allowed the disjunctive truth conditions of huozhe in the nuclear scope of mei. Altogether, children's asymmetric responses in the two arguments of mei suggest that Mandarin-speaking children, like adults, are aware of the semantic property of downward entailment at an early age. Along with previous cross-linguistic studies, the findings of the present paper provide further evidence for the view that the semantic 'core' property of downward entailment (a) applies in different linguistic communities, and (b) appears at an early stage of language development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)599-631
Number of pages33
JournalLanguage and Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • downward entailment
  • disjunction
  • universal quantification
  • language acquisition
  • Mandarin Chinese


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