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Context-Dependent Learning of Linguistic Disjunction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2022

Masoud JASBI*
University of California, Davis
Akshay JAGGI
Harvard Medical School
Stanford University
Michael C. FRANK
Stanford University
*Corresponding author: Masoud Jasbi, Department of Linguistics, 469 Kerr Hall, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA, 95616. E-mail:


What are the constraints, cues, and mechanisms that help learners create successful word-meaning mappings? This study takes up linguistic disjunction and looks at cues and mechanisms that can help children learn the meaning of or. We first used a large corpus of parent-child interactions to collect statistics on or uses. Children started producing or between 18-30 months and by 42 months, their rate of production reached a plateau. Second, we annotated for the interpretation of disjunction in child-directed speech. Parents used or mostly as exclusive disjunction, typically accompanied by rise-fall intonation and logically inconsistent disjuncts. But when these two cues were absent, disjunction was generally not exclusive. Our computational modeling suggests that an ideal learner could successfully interpret an English disjunction (as exclusive or not) by mapping forms to meanings after partitioning the input according to the intonational and logical cues available in child-directed speech.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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