Thursday 27 February – Loes Koring

Speaker: Loes Koring (Leiden)
Title: Disjointness in Child Language
Date:  Thursday 27 February
Venue: Wijkplaats 2/005
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs (drinks afterwards at Café de Keyser)

A word like ‘somebody’ introduces a novel referent to the 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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