General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 8 September, 2016 12:30 to 13:00 Oral presentation
Preschoolers’ Interpretation of Presupposed and Pragmatically Implied Exhaustivity
Speaker: Lilla Pintér, Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Authors: Lilla Pintér


The aim of the study is to experimentally investigate whether presupposed or pragmatically implied exhaustivity is harder for young children to process. According to the standard view, the exhaustivity of structural focus is a presupposition (Kenesei 1986, Szabolcsi 1994, Bende-Farkas 2009). The fact that the semantic status of its exhaustive meaning component differs from that of prosodic foci used in German, Spanish, and Greek has also been proved by Skopeteas & Fanselow (2011). Additionally, sentences with neutral intonation and word order can also be interpreted exhaustively if the context strongly supports this reading (Wedgwood 2005), but this is merely an implicature. In the first experiment, I compared the interpretation of structurally marked focus to that of neutral SVO sentences in four age groups using a sentence–picture verification task. I found that while seven-year-olds, nine-year-olds and adults indeed responded differently when judging the two sentences types on a three-point scale consisting of smiley faces, there was no such difference in the group of preschoolers, hence they did not detect the violation of the requirement of exhaustivity in any of the cases. In a current study, I am testing the role of specific contexts in eliciting the exhaustive meaning in the case of preschoolers. When testing adult native speakers, Gerőcs et al. (2014) found that the presence of a preceding question can increase the ratio of exhaustive interpretation in the case of both structural and prosodic foci. Moreover, the role of explicit Question–Answer Congruence has also been accentuated in the case of focus particles (Hackl et al. 2015). Therefore it is reasonable to assume that using questions that have a wh-element corresponding to the structurally marked focus of the test sentence can also help children identify the focused constituent and hence exclude its alternatives in an adult-like fashion.
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Discourse and pragmatic development
Place: Room A-16

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