Scalar implicatures with quantifiers in Romanian 7 and 9 year olds

Children have been shown to be more logical than adults in their interpretation of sentences with existential quantifiers (Noveck 2011, Papafragou & Musolino 2003, Pouscoulous et al. 2007, Katsos &Bishop 2011 a.o.) in various languages (French, Greek, English, German, Dutch, Italian a.o). Unlike adults, who often understand a sentence such as Some actors are talented as implicating Not all actors are talented, thus taking some to implicate the negation of the stronger term along the scale <some, all> , children do not seem to rely on scalar implicatures, but interpret some logically, as compatible with all. The present study looks at the way Romanian monolingual children cope with quantifiers and scalarity. While previous such studies on Romanian focused on preschoolers (Stoicescu, Sevcenco & Avram 2015), this study focuses on 7 and 9 year old children. The subjects were a group of 58 Romanian-speaking adults (control subjects), 59 7 year olds and 52 9 year olds from “I.H. Rădulescu” Middle School in Bucharest. The method used was a binary truth value judgment task, where children were shown various pictures and were asked to say whether they agreed with the statements a puppet made about the pictures and to explain why. The materials were divided into two tests (Test 1 and Test 2) in order to prevent the subjects from dealing with the same sentence (with a different quantifier). Each test contained 32 sentences: (i) 4 sentences with unii and (ii) 4 sentences with cȃţiva which are true under the reading “some, possibly all” and false under the reading “some, but not all”, (iii) 4 sentences with unii and (iv) 4 sentences with cȃţiva which are false under the reading “some, possibly all” and true under the reading “some, but not all”, (v) 4 sentences with unii and (vi) 4 sentences with cȃţiva which are false under any reading, (vii) 4 true sentences with toţi (all) and (viii) 4 false sentences with toţi (all). The critical sentences are (i) and (ii), where, for instance, children were shown a picture where all cookies look like Santa Claus and they had to say whether they agrees with the puppet’s statement:

(1) Unele/ Cȃteva prăjituri au chipul lui Moș Crăciun.
Some1/Some2 cookies look like Santa Claus.

The results reveal a significant developmental effect (ANOVA: [F(2, 166)=4.86,p=0.008] for unii, [F(2,168)=10.008, p=0.0000787] for cȃţiva); moreover, 7 year olds seem to derive scalar implicatures with existential quantifiers less frequently than 9 year olds, who, in their turn, derive them less frequently than adults (as further shown by t-tests). However, just as in Stoicescu, Avram, Sevcenco (2015), there seems to be no significant difference in interpretation between unii and cȃţiva. This is accounted for in terms of the semantics and syntax of the two existential quantifiers. While there are some differences between them (e.g. cȃţiva has a quantitative meaning which unii seems to lack), both of them seem to occupy a low position in a scale containing toţi “all”. Thus, adults generate scalar implicatures with both (66.44% with unii, 64.05% with cȃţiva), while children do so with both as well, but to a lesser extent (62% with unii and 60.305% with cȃţiva for 9 year olds and 49.4% with unii and 43.795% for 7 year olds).

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Pouscoulous, N., I. Noveck, G. Politzer, A. Bastide .2007. A developmental investigation of processing costs in implicature production, Language Acquisition 14 (4): 347-375.
Stoicescu, I., A. Sevcenco, L. Avram. 2015. The acquisition of scalar implicatures in child Romanian. In M. Burada, O. Tatu (eds). Proceedings of Conference on British and American Studies, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing