Thursday 25 April – Loes Koring

Speaker: Loes Koring (Leiden university)
Title: Disjointess in Language Acquisition
Date: Thursday 25 April
Venue: Lipsius 2.35(!)
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs (drinks follow at Cafe de Keyzer)

A word like ‘somebody’ introduces a novel referent to discourse. Adult speakers of English typically accept (1) in a context in which the person who brought wine is different from the one who brought beer.

(1)          Somebody brought wine and somebody brought beer to the party.

The disjointness in reference in (1) does not follow from the semantics of the existentially quantified argument, but rather from an implicature of disjointness. Results from an experiment with 3- to 5-year-old English-speaking children show that children have no difficulty deriving disjointness in sentences like (1). Results from two more experiments demonstrate that children do have difficulty, however, deriving the disjointness implicature when the existentially quantified argument is left implicit. This is the case in short verbal passives as in (2).

(2)          The girl is being painted.

Verbal passives involve existential quantification of the external argument, giving rise to an implicature of disjointness, like in (1). As a result, (2) is not compatible with a reflexive event in which the girl painted herself. In contrast to adults, 3-year-olds accept (2) as a description of a reflexive event. I will discuss these results as well as the implications for the syntax of adjectival passives.

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