This paper investigates the interpretation that Italian-speaking children and adults assign to negative sentences with disjunction and negative sentences with conjunction. The aim of the study was to determine whether children and adults assign the same interpretation to these types of sentences. The Semantic Subset Principle (SSP) (Crain et al., in: Clifton, Frazer, Rayner (eds) Perspective on sentence processing, Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillside, 1994) predicts that children’s initial scope assignment should correspond to the interpretation that makes sentences true in the narrowest range of circumstances, even when this is not the interpretation assigned by adults. This prediction was borne out in previous studies in Japanese, Mandarin and Turkish. As predicted by the SSP, the findings of the present study indicate that Italian-speaking children and adults assign the same interpretation to negative sentences with conjunction (conjunction takes scope over negation). By contrast, the study revealed that some children differed from adults in the interpretation they assigned to negative sentences with disjunction. Adults interpreted disjunction as taking scope over negation, whereas children were divided into two groups: one group interpreted disjunction as taking scope over negation as adults did; another group interpreted negation as taking scope over disjunction, as predicted by the SSP. To explain the findings, we propose that Italian-speaking children initially differ from adults as dictated by the SSP, but children converge on the adult grammar earlier than children acquiring other languages due to the negative concord status of Italian, including the application of negative concord to sentences with disjunction.
- child language
- negative concord