The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Aravind & Rasin paper in Natural Language Semantics

A new paper by alum Ezer Rasin (PhD 2018) and faculty colleague Athulya Aravind (also PhD 2018) has just been published in the journal Natural Language Semantics, entitled “The nature of the semantic stimulus: the acquisition of every as a case study”.  (It’s open access, so please click on the link to read!)  Here’s the 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.