Scalar implicatures and downward entailment in child Mandarin

Yi Esther Su

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    9 Citations (Scopus)


    This study aims to test whether or not the computation of scalar implicatures in child Mandarin is influenced by the entailment properties of linguistic contexts. Experiment 1 compared adults' and children's interpretations of the scalar term huozhe 'or', when it appeared in the two arguments of the universal quantifier mei 'every'. The results showed that Mandarin-speaking adults accepted huozhe as compatible with he 'and' in the (downward entailing) restrictor of mei, but not in the (non-downward entailing) nuclear scope of mei, indicating that adults' calculation of scalar implicatures is sensitive to the influence of entailment patterns. Unlike adults, 4-5-year-old Mandarin-speaking children persistently interpreted huozhe as compatible with he in both contexts. Two further experiments confirmed that children were insensitive to scalar implicatures related to huozhe in non-downward entailing contexts (Experiment 2), unless alternative sentences containing the scalar terms huozhe and he were explicitly presented (Experiment 3). Taken together with previous child studies, the experimental findings suggest that scalar implicatures are not derived in downward entailing contexts. In addition, young children do not spontaneously compute scalar implicatures to the same extent as adults do in non-downward entailing contexts. In both cases, then, young children appear to interpret disjunction as its meaning in classical logic, i. e., inclusive-or.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)167-187
    Number of pages21
    JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Disjunction
    • Downward entailment
    • Language acquisition
    • Mandarin Chinese
    • Scalar implicatures


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