Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1193–1217 | Cite as

Strong and Weak Readings in the Domain of Worlds: A Negative Polar Modal and Children’s Scope Assignment

  • Loes KoringEmail author
  • Luisa Meroni
  • Vincenzo Moscati


This study investigates children’s interpretation of sentences with two logical operators: Dutch universal modal hoeven and negation (niet). In adult Dutch, hoeven is an NPI that necessarily scopes under negation, giving rise to a not > necessary reading. The findings from a hidden-object task with 5- and 6-year-old children showed that children’s performance is suggestive of an interpretation of sentences with hoeft niet in which the modal scopes over negation (necessary > not). This is in line with the Semantic Subset Principle that dictates that children should opt for the strongest possible reading in case of potential scope ambiguities. The full pattern of results, however, seems to be determined, in addition, by a particular strategy children use when facing uncertainty called Premature Closure.


Semantic Subset Principle Scope assignment Modality Negation Acquisition 



We would like to thank the teachers and children at Montessori school Oosterhout and De Kring, Rijen for their enthusiastic participation in this study.

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.ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Department of Cognitive ScienceMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Social, Political and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  4. 4.Department of Language, Culture and CommunicationUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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