The interpretation and processing of quantifiers in structurally ambiguous sentences; Insights from child language

In this DFG-funded project we address the following key questions: (i) Why and how does logical strength determine the availability of scopal interpretations? (ii) Is there a semantic filter that blocks the syntactic mechanism switching the scope of the operators? (iii) Is this behavior due to the interplay of pragmatic inferences (e.g. scalar implicatures) that are known to be governed by logical strength? (iv) Does prosodic intonation ultimately signals which interpretation is conveyed by the speaker? Research on language acquisition constitutes an optimal mean to obtain insights aimed to addressing the questions above, in that it allows to identify the different phases in which children acquire relevant grammatical aspects may control scope ambiguities (pragmatic strengthening, prosody, etc.). So, the extent to which scope shift is linked to pragmatic inferencing, prosody and other processing factors can be revealed by how children cope with these phenomena in interaction. The present proposal involves a series of six experiments with adults and 4- to 5-year-old children to collect offline semantic judgments and online eye tracking data. The results will lead to a novel and better understanding of scope ambiguity and its interaction with syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic principles and processing factors.

Nivedita Mani (PI), Daniele Panizza (postdoc), Markus Steinbach (PI), Hedde Zeijlstra (PI)