Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1219–1241 | Cite as

Differences in Scope Assignments for Child and Adult Speakers of Mandarin

  • Na GaoEmail author
  • Rosalind Thornton
  • Peng Zhou
  • Stephen Crain


The present study used a Truth Value Judgment Task to investigate whether changes in sentence structure lead to corresponding changes in the assignment of scope relations by Mandarin-speaking children and adults. In one condition, participants were presented with ordinary negative sentences containing disjunction; this condition was designed to verify the existing claim that disjunction is a positive polarity item for adult speakers of Mandarin, but not for child speakers. In a second condition, participants were presented with negative sentences where the disjunction phrase was preposed from object position; this condition was designed to examine the extent to which changes in sentence structure can result in changes in scope assignments to negated disjunctions. The results indicate that the preposed disjunction phrase undergoes reconstruction for children, whereas reconstruction is blocked for adults. This finding also suggests that Mandarin-speaking children and adults exhibit different scope preferences for negated disjunctions, regardless of where the disjunction phrase appears in the surface syntax.


Scope assignment Disjunction Child Mandarin Reconstruction 



This research was supported by Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. We are grateful to Dr. Lyn Tieu for her proofreading support. We would also like to acknowledge the children and adults who participated in the experiments for their input and time.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This research was approved by Macquarie University Ethics Committee (REF: 5201401129).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its DisordersMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Beijing Language and Culture UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Tsinghua UniversityBeijingChina

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