A recent theory provides a unified cross-linguistic analysis of the interpretations that are assigned to expressions for disjunction, Negative Polarity Items, Free Choice Items, and the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in languages such as Mandarin Chinese. If this approach is on the right track, children should be expected to demonstrate similar patterns in the acquisition of these linguistic expressions. Previous research has found that, by age four, children have acquired the knowledge that both the existential indefinite renhe “any” and wh-words in Mandarin Chinese are interpreted as Negative Polarity Items when they are bound by downward entailing operators, but the same expressions are interpreted as Free Choice Items (with a conjunctive interpretation) when they are bound by deontic modals (Mandarin keyi) or by the Mandarin adverbial quantifier dou “all”. The present study extends this line of research to the Mandarin disjunction word huozhe. A Truth Value Judgment Task was used to investigate the possibility that disjunction phrases that are bound by the adverbial quantifier dou generate a conjunctive interpretation in the grammars of Mandarin-speaking 4-year-old children. The findings confirmed this prediction. We discuss the implications of the findings for linguistic theory and for language learnability.
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- child Mandarin
- free choice items
- negative polarity items