Differences in scope assignments for children and adult speakers of Mandarin

Na Gao, Rosalind Thornton, Peng Zhou, Stephen Crain

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    1 Citation (Scopus)


    The present study used a Truth Value Judgment Task to investigate whether changes in sentence structure lead to corresponding changes in the assignment of scope relations by Mandarin-speaking children and adults. In one condition, participants were presented with ordinary negative sentences containing disjunction; this condition was designed to verify the existing claim that disjunction is a positive polarity item for adult speakers of Mandarin, but not for child speakers. In a second condition, participants were presented with negative sentences where the disjunction phrase was preposed from object position; this condition was designed to examine the extent to which changes in sentence structure can result in changes in scope assignments to negated disjunctions. The results indicate that the preposed disjunction phrase undergoes reconstruction for children, whereas reconstruction is blocked for adults. This finding also suggests that Mandarin-speaking children and adults exhibit different scope preferences for negated disjunctions, regardless of where the disjunction phrase appears in the surface syntax.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1219–1241
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
    Issue number6
    Early online date5 Feb 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


    • scope assignment
    • disjunction
    • child Mandarin
    • reconstruction


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