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Volume 50, Issue 1 (Jan 2012)


Japanese-speaking children's interpretation of sentences containing the focus particle datte even: Conventional implicatures, QUD, and processing limitations

Masuyo Ito


This paper investigates Japanese-speaking children's (in)sensitivity to information strength when interpreting sentences containing the focus particle datte even. It examines whether or not their sensitivity is affected by the Question Under Discussion (QUD) and the Felicity Judgment (FJ) task based on the Processing Limitation Hypothesis (PLH; cf. Chierchia et al., The acquisition of disjunction: Evidence for a grammatical view of scalar implicatures: 157168, Cascadilla Press, 2001, Semantic and pragmatic competence in children's and adults' comprehension of or, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).

Because datte even is not a scalar term, it does not give rise to scalar implicatures (SIs) by constituting a part of scales. Even evokes conventional implicatures. However, an even sentence in context in addition to the conventional implicatures evokes a special case of SI calculated from context-dependent scales, which is pragmatic inferences induced by evens conventional implicatures (i.e., the word's semantic/pragmatic import). The relevant scale (generally) concerns the NP element focused by even and a set of alternatives. Because sentences without even do not evoke any SI, I assume that the relevant implicatures are conventional in nature.

Three experiments were done to examine whether Japanese-speaking children are really (in)capable of calculating conventional implicatures derived from datte sentences. It was found that (i) Children are insensitive to pragmatic anomalies of single infelicitous sentences (Experiments 1 and 2). This inability to detect pragmatic infelicity is consistent with findings about their ability to compute SIs. On the other hand, the adults showed sensitivity to conventional implicatures in all three experiments, which may be taken as evidence that the computation of implicatures derived from datte sentences differs from that of SIs. (ii) Unlike the results reported for SI in Zondervan (Effects of question under discussion and focus on scalar implicatures: 3952, 2007, Experiments on QUD and focus as a contextual constraint on scalar implicature calculation, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), the wh-focus/QUD way of asking questions does not facilitate the children's performance with datte sentences (Experiment 2). (iii) The FJ task improved children's performance (Experiment 3), thus supporting the PLH, which was applied to SI computation (Chierchia et al., Semantic and pragmatic competence in children's and adults' comprehension of or, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004; cf. Reinhart, The processing cost of reference-set computation: Guess patterns in acquisition, Utrecht University, 1999, Interface strategies, MIT Press, 2006), and to the computation of implicatures involved in datte sentences. (iv) Children are unable to compute implicatures based on context-specific pragmatic scales derived from datte sentences, when a single underinformative statement is given. This partly contradicts previous findings on SI based on contextdependentpragmatic scales (Papafragou and Tantalou, Language Acquisition 12: 7182, 2004).

The results indicate that children's insensitivity to the pragmatic infelicity of datte sentences stems from the processing load induced by building and maintaining alternative representations, as reported for SI computation.

About the article

Correspondence address: Faculty of Humanities, Fukuoka University, 8-19-1 Nanakuma, Jonanku, Fukuoka, Japan 814-0180.

Received: 2009-10-16

Revised: 2011-04-28

Published in Print: 2012-01-01

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2012-0004.

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