The nature of the semantic stimulus: the acquisition of every as a case study

Ezer Rasin*, Athulya Aravind

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

We evaluate the richness of the child’s input in semantics and its relation to the hypothesis space available to the child. Our case study is the acquisition of the universal quantifier every. We report two main findings regarding the acquisition of every on the basis of a corpus study of child-directed and child-ambient speech. Our first finding is that the input in semantics (as opposed to the input in syntax or phonology) is rich enough to systematically eliminate instances of the subset problem of language acquisition: overly general hypotheses about the meaning of every can violate pragmatic constraints, making such hypotheses incompatible with the child’s input. Our second finding is that the semantic input is too poor to eliminate instances of what we refer to as the superset problem, the mirror image of the subset problem. We argue that at least some overly specific hypotheses about the meaning of every are compatible with the child’s input, suggesting either that those hypotheses are not made available by UG or that non-trivial inductive biases are involved in children’s acquisition of every.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-375
Number of pages37
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Volume29
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Funding

FundersFunder number
Universität Leipzig

    Keywords

    • Acquisition
    • Corpus
    • Quantifiers

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