Lyn Tieu, Jacopo Romoli, Eva B. Poortman, Yoad Winter, & Stephen Crain. 2017. “Children’s comprehension of plural predicate conjunction.” To appear in Journal of Child Language.

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Abstract: 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.

Keywords: conjunction; Strongest Meaning Hypothesis; boolean conjunction; plural definites; child language; acquisition