Acquiring Knowledge of Universal Quantification

  • William Philip
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 41)


This chapter concerns the first language acquisition (L1A) of universal quantifiers, i.e. grammatical morphemes like English each, every, all. One of its goals is to examine what the L1A of universal quantification consists in by analyzing the components of this knowledge and considering in each case whether or not its acquisition would present a logical problem for the learner in the absence of innate knowledge. Here attention is focused on two key questions: (i) How does the child acquire knowledge of the logical operation that underlies the core meaning of universal quantifiers, and (ii) How does the child comes to know the linguistic constraints on this operation that shape the actual semantic value and syntactic properties of specific universal quantifiers? Consideration of these issues, together with a brief review of certain key empirical observations, leads to the general conclusion that much of the knowledge of universal quantification must be innately specified and would appear to be fully acquired at a very early age. The second objective of this chapter is to examine critically a much-studied child comprehension error which appears to challenge any innateness hypothesis regarding the L1A of universal quantifiers. The error in question (here called “exhaustive pairing”) is typically found in the comprehension performance of 4- and 5 year-olds, a relatively late age. After reviewing the empirical properties of the error and some accounts of it in the literature, a new account is presented. Some predictions of this proposal are then tested in three truth-value judgment experiments with Dutch children.


Noun Phrase Universal Quantifier Sentence Type Test Sentence Universal Grammar 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LinguisticsUniversity of UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands

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