The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/16 - Ayaka Sugawara

Speaker: Ayaka Sugawara (MIT) (joint work with Martin Hackl and Ken Wexler)
Title: On acquisition of “only”: Question-Answer congruence and scalar presuppositions
Date/Time:Thursday, October 16, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

There is a long-standing puzzle in acquisition of only since Crain et al. (1994): children up to age 6 display difficulties understanding sentences with pre-subject only (“subject-only”, e.g. Only the cat is holding a flag.) while having no difficulty understanding sentences with pre-VP only (“VP-only”, e.g. The cat is only holding a flag.). We note that neither “subject-only” nor “VP-only” are congruent with a broad question (e.g. What happened?), which is typically used to prompt puppet’s answers in experiments in the literature. Instead, they are congruent with different sub-questions, which we hypothesize that listeners must accommodate during comprehension. Our experiments compare children’s adult-like responses when we use broad questions and their responses when we use sub-questions. The results show that children are sensitive to Question-Answer Congruence (QAC) and support the idea that accommodation of sub-questions of What happened? plays a role in Crain’s puzzle.