Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 167–187 | Cite as

Scalar implicatures and downward entailment in child Mandarin



This study aims to test whether or not the computation of scalar implicatures in child Mandarin is influenced by the entailment properties of linguistic contexts. Experiment 1 compared adults’ and children’s interpretations of the scalar term huozhe ‘or’, when it appeared in the two arguments of the universal quantifier mei ‘every’. The results showed that Mandarin-speaking adults accepted huozhe as compatible with he ‘and’ in the (downward entailing) restrictor of mei, but not in the (non-downward entailing) nuclear scope of mei, indicating that adults’ calculation of scalar implicatures is sensitive to the influence of entailment patterns. Unlike adults, 4–5-year-old Mandarin-speaking children persistently interpreted huozhe as compatible with he in both contexts. Two further experiments confirmed that children were insensitive to scalar implicatures related to huozhe in non-downward entailing contexts (Experiment 2), unless alternative sentences containing the scalar terms huozhe and he were explicitly presented (Experiment 3). Taken together with previous child studies, the experimental findings suggest that scalar implicatures are not derived in downward entailing contexts. In addition, young children do not spontaneously compute scalar implicatures to the same extent as adults do in non-downward entailing contexts. In both cases, then, young children appear to interpret disjunction as its meaning in classical logic, i.e., inclusive-or.


Scalar implicatures Downward entailment Disjunction Language acquisition Mandarin Chinese 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barner, David, Neon Brooks, and Alan Bale. 2011. Accessing the unsaid: The role of scalar alternatives in children’s pragmatic inference. Cognition 188: 84–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cheng, Lisa Lai-Shen. 1995. On dou-quantification. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 4: 197–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chierchia, Gennaro. 2004. Scalar implicatures, polarity phenomena, and the syntax/pragmatics interface. In Structures and beyond, ed. Belleti Adriana, and Rizzi Luigi, 39–103. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Chierchia, Gennaro. 2006. Broaden your views: Implicatures of domain widening and the “logicality” of language. Linguistic Inquiry 37: 535–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chierchia, Gennaro, Stephen Crain, Maria Teresa Guasti, Andrea Gualmini, and Luisa Meroni. 2001. The acquisition of disjunction: Evidence for a grammatical view of scalar implicatures. In Proceedings of the 25th annual Boston University conference on language development, ed. A.H.-J. Do, L. Domínguez, and A. Johansen, 157–168. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chierchia, Gennaro, Stephen Crain, Maria Teresa Guasti, and Rosalind Thornton. 1998. “Some” and “or”: A study on the emergence of logical form. In Proceedings of the 22nd Boston University conference on language development, ed. A. Greenhill, M. Hughes, H. Littlefield, and H. Walsh, 97–108. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  7. Chierchia, Gennaro, Maria Teresa Guasti, Andrea Gualmini, Luisa Meroni, Stephen Crain, and Francesca Foppolo. 2004. Semantic and pragmatic competence in children’s and adults’ comprehension of or. In Experimental pragmatics, ed. I.A. Noveck, and D. Sperber, 283–300. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Crain, Stephen. 2008. The interpretation of disjunction in universal grammar. Language and Speech 51: 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crain, Stephen. 2012. The emergence of meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Crain, Stephen, and Drew Khlentzos. 2008. Is logic innate? Biolinguistics 2: 24–56.Google Scholar
  11. Crain, Stephen, and Drew Khlentzos. 2010. The logic instinct. Mind and Language 25: 30–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crain, Stephen, and Rosalind Thornton. 1998. Investigations in universal grammar: A guide to experiments on the acquisition of syntax and semantics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Grice, Herbert Paul. 1975. Logic and conversation. In Syntax and semantics, vol. 3, ed. P. Cole, and J.L. Morgan, 41–58. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  14. Gualmini, Andrea, Stephen Crain, and Luisa Meroni. 2000. Acquisition of disjunction in conditional sentences. In Proceedings of the 24th Boston University conference on language development, ed. S.C. Howell, S.A. Fish, and T. Keith-Lucas, 326–378. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gualmini, Andrea, Stephen Crain, Luisa Meroni, Gennaro Chierchia, and Maria Teresa Guasti. 2001. At the semantics/pragmatics interface in child language. In Proceedings of SALT XI, ed. R. Hastings, B. Jackson, and Z. Zvolenszky, 231–247. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.Google Scholar
  16. Guasti, Maria Teresa, Gennaro Chierchia, Stephen Crain, Francesca Foppolo, Andrea Gualmini, and Luisa Meroni. 2005. Why children and adults sometimes (but not always) compute implicatures. Language and Cognitive Processes 20: 667–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Higginbotham, James. 1991. Either/or. In Proceedings of NELS 21, ed. T. Sherer, 143–155. Amherst, MA: GLSA Publications.Google Scholar
  18. Horn, Laurence. 1972. On the semantic properties of logical operators in English. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  19. Huang, C.-T. James. 1982. Logical relations in Chinese and the theory of grammar. Ph.D. diss., MIT.Google Scholar
  20. Huang, Yi Ting, and Jesse Snedeker. 2009. Semantic meaning and pragmatic interpretation in five-year olds: Evidence from real time spoken language comprehension. Developmental Psychology 45: 1723–1739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jing, Chunyuan, Stephen Crain, and Ching-Fen Hsu. 2005. The interpretation of focus in Chinese: Child vs. adult language. In Proceedings of the 6th Tokyo conference on psycholinguistics, ed. Y. Otsu, 165–190. Tokyo: Hituzi Syobo Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Katsos, Napoleon, and Dorothy V.M. Bishop. 2011. Pragmatic tolerance: Implications for the acquisition of informativeness and implicature. Cognition 120: 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ladusaw, William. 1979. Negative polarity as inherent scope relations. Ph.D. diss., University of Texas.Google Scholar
  24. Lee, Thomas Hun-Tak. 1986. Studies on quantification in Chinese. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  25. Lin, Jo-Wang. 1998. Distributivity in Chinese and its implications. Natural Language Semantics 6: 201–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Morris, Bradley J. 2008. Logically speaking: Evidence for item-based acquisition of the connectives AND & OR. Journal of Cognition and Development 9: 67–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Notley, Anna, Peng Zhou, Britta Jensen, and Stephen Crain. 2012. Children’s interpretation of disjunction in the scope of ‘before’: A comparison of English and Mandarin. Journal of Child Language 39: 482–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Noveck, Ira A. 2001. When children are more logical than adults: Experimental investigations of scalar implicature. Cognition 78: 165–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Noveck, Ira A., Gennaro Chierchia, Florelle Chevaux, Raphaelle Guelminger, and Emmanuel Sylvestre. 2002. Linguistic-pragmatic factors in interpreting disjunctions. Thinking and Reasoning 8: 297–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Noveck, Ira A., and Anne Reboul. 2008. Experimental pragmatics: A Gricean turn in the study of language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12: 425–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pan, H.H. 2006. Focus, tripartite structure, and the semantic interpretation of Mandarin dou. Research and Exploration on Grammar 13: 163–184. (in Chinese).Google Scholar
  32. Panizza, Daniele, Gennaro Chierchia, and Charles Clifton Jr. 2009. On the role of entailment patterns and scalar implicatures in the processing of numerals. Journal of Memory and Language 61: 503–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Papafragou, Anna. 2006. From scalar semantics to implicature: Children’s interpretation of aspectuals. Journal of Child Language 33: 721–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Papafragou, Anna, and Julien Musolino. 2003. Scalar implicatures: Experiments at the semantics–pragmatics interface. Cognition 86: 253–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Papafragou, Anna, and Niki Tantalou. 2004. Children’s computation of implicatures. Language Acquisition 12: 71–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Partee, Barbara H., Alice ter Meulen, and Robert E. Wall. 1990. Mathematical methods in linguistics. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Portner, Paul. 2002. Topicality and (non-)specificity in Mandarin. Journal of Semantics 19: 275–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pouscoulous, Nausicaa, Ira A. Noveck, Guy Politzer, and Anne Bastide. 2007. A developmental investigation of processing costs in implicature production. Language Acquisition 14: 347–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Reinhart, Tanya. 2006. The acquisition of scalar implicatures. In Interface strategies-optimal and costly computations, ed. T. Reinhart, 272–292. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  40. Su, Yi (Esther) and Stephen Crain. 2013 April. Children’s knowledge of disjunction and universal quantification in Mandarin Chinese. Language and Linguistics.Google Scholar
  41. Su, Yi (Esther) and Stephen Crain. 2010. Disjunction and conditionals in child Mandarin. In Proceedings of the 22nd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-22) and the 18th Annual Meeting of the International Association of Chinese Linguistics (IACL-18), ed. Clemens, L.E. and C.-M. L. Liu, 187-202. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  42. Su, Yi (Esther), Peng Zhou, and Stephen Crain. 2012. Downward entailment in child Mandarin. Journal of Child Language. 39:957–990.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its DisordersMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Mental Health Institute, The Second Xiangya HospitalCentral South UniversityChangshaPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations