The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Experimentalist Meeting 12/6 - Elise Newman (MIT) and Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT) and Yadav Gowda (MIT)
Title: Children can ‘even’: the learning trajectory of an English scalar particle
Time: Friday, December 6th, 2pm – 3pm
Location: 36-156 (NOTE: This is a a different location than normal!)

Abstract: Kim 2011 argues that children learn ‘even’ later than ‘only’, showing no evidence of learning ‘even’ in the 4-5 year old range. We argue that Kim’s results are unreliable due to flaws in her experimental design. We show that controlling for those factors reveals evidence of learning in children ages 4-5: children ages 4-5 show considerably more adult-like comprehension of ‘even’ than 3 year olds, with justifications that suggest they recognize the need for scalar reasoning in interpreting ‘even’. In addition to this finding, we report two additional results. First, children show two types of non-adult like behavior, one of which looks like guessing (and is unstable, disappearing by age 6), and the other of which co-occurs with justifications that indicate scalar reasoning (and is stable through age 6). This suggests that there is a learning space children consider when hypothesizing meanings for ‘even’. Second, there appears to be somewhat of a polarity effect: children show higher rates of adult-like behavior in negative environments than positive environments. Evidence from child production of ‘even’ as well as child-directed use of ‘even’ suggests that the latter finding may be a frequency effect in the input; adults produce higher rates of negative ‘even’ than positive ‘even’.