Differentiating Universal Quantification from Perfectivity: Cantonese-Speaking Children’s Command of the Affixal Quantifier saai3

  • Margaret Ka-yan LeiEmail author
  • Thomas Hun-tak Lee
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 47)


This study investigates whether Cantonese-speaking preschoolers are sensitive to the semantic differences between universal quantification and perfectivity under the differentiating context of negation. In Cantonese, the negation of a perfective predicate in the form of [NEG V] denotes the non-existence or non-realization of an event (“none” reading), while the negation of a predicate suffixed by the universal quantifier saai3 in the form of [NEG V saai3] denotes the partial realization of an event (“partial” reading). Using the two-choice picture/video selection task, we tested 34 children aged between 3;6 and 4;6 (mean age = 3;10) and 72 adults in a between-subject design on sentences of the form [NEG V] (negation of perfectivity) or [NEG V saai3] (negation of universal quantification), paired with a none reading (non-existence or non-realization or an event) and a partial reading (partial realization of an event). Our findings reveal that children are able to differentiate universal quantification and perfectivity in the negation context. While children can understand saai3 quantifying an object under the scope of negation, a blocking effect is observed in subject quantification with the negator intervening between saai3 and its associated nominal.


Semantic acquisition Child Cantonese Universal quantification A-quantification Domain of quantification Negation of perfectivity Blocking effect of negation 



We wish to thank the participants of the Workshop on Linguistics and Cognitive Aspects of Quantification , the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and critical comments. Special thanks are due to members of the Language Acquisition Lab at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) for their support on the experimental work. We would also like to thank the principal, teachers, parents and children at the Po Leung Kuk Mrs Tam Wah Ching Kindergarten for their support on our child language experiments, and to CUHK students who took part in the control experiments. The support of a GRF grant “The interpretation of numeral phrases by Chinese-speaking children” (CUHK#447008) to the second author as Principal Investigator is hereby gratefully acknowledged.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Modern LanguagesChinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

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