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Academic Paper


Title: Children's interpretation of disjunction in the scope of ‘before’: a comparison of English and Mandarin
Author: Anna Notley
Institution: Macquarie University
Author: Peng Zhou
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.maccs.mq.edu.au/members/profile.html?memberID=222
Institution: Macquarie University
Author: Britta Jensen
Institution: Macquarie University
Author: Stephen Crain
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.maccs.mq.edu.au/members/profile.html?memberID=55
Institution: Macquarie University
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Psycholinguistics
Subject Language: Chinese, Mandarin
English
Abstract: This study investigates three- to five-year-old children's interpretation of disjunction in sentences like ‘The dog reached the finish line before the turtle or the bunny’. English disjunction has a conjunctive interpretation in such sentences (‘The dog reached the finish line before the turtle before the bunny’). This interpretation conforms with classical logic. Mandarin disjunction (‘huozhe’) can take scope over ‘before’ (‘zai … zhiqian’), so the same sentence can mean ‘The dog reached the finish line before the turtle before the bunny (I don't know which)’. If children are guided by adult input in the acquisition of sentence meanings, English- and Mandarin-speaking children should assign different interpretations to such sentences. If children are guided by logical principles, then children acquiring either language should initially assign the conjunctive interpretation of disjunction. A truth-value judgment task was used to test this prediction and English- and Mandarin-speaking children were found to behave similarly.

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This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 39, Issue 3.

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