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Children's comprehension of plural predicate conjunction*


Previous developmental studies of conjunction have focused on the syntax of phrasal and sentential coordination (Lust, 1977; de Villiers, Tager-Flusberg & Hakuta, 1977; Bloom, Lahey, Hood, Lifter & Fiess, 1980, among others). The present study examined the flexibility of children's interpretation of conjunction. Specifically, when two predicates that can apply simultaneously to a single individual are conjoined in the scope of a plural definite (The bears are big and white), conjunction receives a Boolean, intersective interpretation. However, when the conjoined predicates cannot apply simultaneously to an individual (The bears are big and small), conjunction receives a weaker ‘split’ interpretation (Krifka, 1990; Lasersohn, 1995; Winter, 1996). Our experiments reveal that preschool-aged children are sensitive to both intersective and split interpretations, and can use their lexical and world knowledge of the relevant predicates in order to select an appropriate reading.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Lyn Tieu, Department of Cognitive Science, Australian Hearing Hub, 16 University Avenue, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia. e-mail:
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For helpful feedback and discussion, we would like to thank the audience at the 2014 Rencontres d'Automne de Linguistique formelle (RALFe), as well as the linguists at the École Normale Supérieure. We would also like to thank Zheng Shen for his assistance with adult participants, the preschools in Connecticut for allowing us to carry out our study, and Yael Seggev for the original drawing in Figure 1. L. Tieu's research was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n.313610, ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL*, ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC, and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE110001021); E. Poortman and Y. Winter's work was partially supported by a VICI grant 277-80-002 of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO); and J. Romoli's research was partially supported by the Leverhulme Trust, grant RPG-2016-100 (‘Pluralised mass nouns as a window to linguistic variation’).

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Journal of Child Language
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