Why children aren't universally successful with quantification

Julien Musolino, Jeffrey Lidz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


This paper explores preschooler's knowledge of the linguistic principles (syntactic, semantic and pragmatic) regulating the interaction between universally quantified noun phrases and negation. Previous work has shown that 5-year-olds differ systematically from adults in the way they interpret sentences containing these elements (Musolino 1998; Musolino et al. 2000). On the basis of these results, Musolino et al. conclude that the grammar of 5-year-olds generates only a subset of the interpretations available in the adult grammar. We present here a series of experiments whose results challenge this conclusion. First, we demonstrate that under certain contextual conditions, 5-year-olds can be shown to access the same range of interpretations which characterize the adult system. Second, we show that while 5-year-olds do not differ from adults grammatically, their command of the pragmatic principles associated with the use of quantified statements is much more fragile than that of adults. We further suggest that children's immature pragmatic abilities is what gave rise to Musolino et al.'s findings in the first place. In doing so, we tie together research on grammatical development with a growing body of work on the development of pragmatic abilities and sentence processing in young children (Noveck 2001; Papafragou and Musolino 2003; Trueswell et al. 1999; Hurewitz et al. 2001). Finally, we show that our results have interesting methodological implications for the study of grammatical development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-852
Number of pages36
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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