Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1243–1277 | Cite as

The Compositionality of Logical Connectives in Child Italian

  • Elena PagliariniEmail author
  • Stephen Crain
  • Maria Teresa Guasti


This paper investigates the interpretation that Italian-speaking children and adults assign to negative sentences with disjunction and negative sentences with conjunction. The aim of the study was to determine whether children and adults assign the same interpretation to these types of sentences. The Semantic Subset Principle (SSP) (Crain et al., in: Clifton, Frazer, Rayner (eds) Perspective on sentence processing, Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillside, 1994) predicts that children’s initial scope assignment should correspond to the interpretation that makes sentences true in the narrowest range of circumstances, even when this is not the interpretation assigned by adults. This prediction was borne out in previous studies in Japanese, Mandarin and Turkish. As predicted by the SSP, the findings of the present study indicate that Italian-speaking children and adults assign the same interpretation to negative sentences with conjunction (conjunction takes scope over negation). By contrast, the study revealed that some children differed from adults in the interpretation they assigned to negative sentences with disjunction. Adults interpreted disjunction as taking scope over negation, whereas children were divided into two groups: one group interpreted disjunction as taking scope over negation as adults did; another group interpreted negation as taking scope over disjunction, as predicted by the SSP. To explain the findings, we propose that Italian-speaking children initially differ from adults as dictated by the SSP, but children converge on the adult grammar earlier than children acquiring other languages due to the negative concord status of Italian, including the application of negative concord to sentences with disjunction.


Child language Disjunction Conjunction Negation Negative concord Italian 



The authors acknowledge Robin Blumfield, Cory Bill, Nobuaki Agaki and Vasfiye Geçkin for providing critical support during the preparation of these studies. The pictures used in the experiments were created by Dorothy An and therefore the authors would like to thank her. The authors also wish to thank the children who participated in the study, their teachers and their parents. Finally, the authors are also grateful to two reviewers for their thorough comments.

Authors’ Contribution

EP and SC conceived the project, EP and SC designed experiment 1, EP and MTG conceived and designed experiment 2 and 3, EP collected the data, EP analyzed the data, EP wrote and revised the paper and MTG and SC commented on the various versions of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC), Departament de Tecnologies de la Informació i les Comunicacions (DTIC)Universitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its DisordersAustralian Hearing HubSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of LinguisticsAustralian Hearing HubSydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversità degli Studi di Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly

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