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Restrictions on addition: children's interpretation of the focus particles auch ‘also’ and nur ‘only’ in German*



Children up to school age have been reported to perform poorly when interpreting sentences containing restrictive and additive focus particles by treating sentences with a focus particle in the same way as sentences without it. Careful comparisons between results of previous studies indicate that this phenomenon is less pronounced for restrictive than for additive particles. We argue that this asymmetry is an effect of the presuppositional status of the proposition triggered by the additive particle. We tested this in two experiments with German-learning three- and four-year-olds using a method that made the exploitation of the information provided by the particles highly relevant for completing the task. Three-year-olds already performed remarkably well with sentences both with auch ‘also’ and with nur ‘only’. Thus, children can consider the presuppositional contribution of the additive particle in their sentence interpretation and can exploit the restrictive particle as a marker of exhaustivity.


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Address for correspondence: Frauke Berger, Linguistics Department, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 24-25, 14476 Potsdam, Germany. e-mail:


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This research was supported by the German Science Foundation (DFG) within the Collaborative Research Center ‘Information structure’ – SFB 632, Project C3 ‘L1-Acquisition of linguistic means to mark information structure: Prosodic, syntactic and lexical aspects’. We are grateful to Nadja Kühn, Caroline Magister, Eva Gercke, Silvia Dobler, Anne Adelt, Maja Stegenwallner and Marie Zielina for assistance in recruiting and testing participants, to Antje Sauermann and Silvana Poltrock for their support in the statistical analyses of the data, and to Robin Hörnig, Thomas Weskott and Malte Zimmermann, as well as to Edith L. Bavin and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.



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