The interpretation of disjunction in VP ellipsis: the case of Mandarin Chinese

Na Gao*, Peng Zhou, Rosalind Thornton, Stephen Crain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


It has long been noted that verb phrase (VP) ellipsis cancels the polarity sensitivity of the English Positive Polarity Items (PPIs). In recent work, it has been proposed that words for disjunction are governed by a parameter. On one value of the parameter, disjunction is a PPI for adult speakers of many languages including Mandarin Chinese. On the other value, disjunction is interpreted in situ. It has also been proposed that child language learners, across languages, initially interpret disjunction in situ, not as a PPI. Taken together, these proposals predict that child and adult speakers of Mandarin will assign the same interpretation to disjunction in sentences with VP ellipsis, but will assign a different interpretation in sentences without VP ellipsis. This study assessed these predictions. In sentences with a full VP, the adult participants analyzed disjunction as a PPI, but they interpreted disjunction in situ in sentences with VP ellipsis. The child participants interpreted disjunction in situ in sentences of both kinds. Together, the findings support the recent proposal that disjunction is governed by a lexical parameter, with a default setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-759
Number of pages23
JournalFirst Language
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • disjunction
  • child language
  • polarity
  • verb phrase ellipsis
  • Mandarin Chinese


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