Universal quantification in children's English

Britta Jensen, Anna Notley, Stephen Crain

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


    Researchers since Inhelder and Piaget (1964) have replicated a curious finding. When using a picture-verification task (e.g., a picture of four elephants, three of them being ridden by boys), children have been shown to supply a non-adult answer in response to a question such as ‘Is every boy riding an elephant?’, e.g. ‘no, not that one’ (pointing to the extra elephant). The question we will address here is whether or not this response by children reflects a non-adult linguistic semantic representation of the meaning of the universal quantifier. Non-adult accounts of children’s interpretation of the universal quantifier (‘every’) suggest that children answer ‘no’ to questions like ‘Is every boy riding an elephant?’ because they may not initially interpret the subject set of ‘boys’ as the restrictor of every. By contrast, adult-like accounts of children’s interpretation of every maintain that children do correctly interpret the set of ‘boys’ as the restrictor of every in such sentences, suggesting that children’s non-adult responses can be eliminated by satisfying contextual demands on the use of the universal quantifier. In this paper, we present longitudinal data from 4 two-year-old children, children far younger than have previously been studied experimentally. We show that even from the earliest stages of language acquisition, so long as sentences are presented in felicitous discourse contexts, children’s interpretation of universal quantification appears adult-like. The data therefore support the adult-like accounts of children’s acquisition of universal quantification.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the Australian Linguistic Society Conference 2008, held in Sydney
    EditorsLouise de Beuzeville, Pam Peters
    Place of PublicationSydney
    PublisherAustralian Linguistic Society, University of Sydney
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Print)9781742102115
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    EventAustralian Linguistic Society Annual Conference (2008) - Sydney, Australia
    Duration: 2 Jul 20084 Jul 2008


    ConferenceAustralian Linguistic Society Annual Conference (2008)


    • language acquisition
    • child language
    • universal quantification
    • adult logic
    • child development


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