What do children know about universal quantifiers?
This dissertation explores children's comprehension of sentences containing universal quantifiers (all, each, every, and any) to gain insight into the nature of the representations assigned and the underlying natural language semantics, with the goal of producing a differentiated map of developmental changes in children's understanding of universal quantification. Five experiments examine children's acquisition of lexical and syntactic cues to quantifier meaning and scope. It is proposed that three canonical representations are initially available which become associated with the English universal quantifiers. The canonical representations include a "collective" mapping associated with all, e.g., given the sentence All the flowers are in a vase the collective interpretation puts all the flowers in the same vase. A second representation is a "distributive" mapping associated with each, e.g., given the sentence Each flower is in a vase the distributive interpretation puts each flower in its own vase. A third representation is an "exhaustive" mapping associated with sentences containing two definite plural noun phrases or mass nouns, e.g., in the sentence The flowers are in the vases the exhaustive interpretation suggests that the flowers are all in vases and all the vases have flowers in them. The experiments use two methodologies: Two experiments use an act-out task in which children act out sentences containing quantifiers and three experiments use a picture-selection task in which children choose pictures to go with sentences from sets of collective, distributive, and exhaustive representations. Much research on children's comprehension of universal quantifiers indicates that children make errors by overextending the domain of the quantifier. The source of these "quantifier spreading" errors is explored throughout the dissertation. It is suggested that quantifier spreading errors are a consequence of assigning exhaustive representations to sentences when a collective or distributive interpretation is more appropriate. The data are consistent with the view that quantifier spreading errors do not reflect differences in underlying semantic competence, but are due to either processing factors, or to incomplete learning of the language-specific lexical and syntactic cues which indicate the range of the universal quantifier.
0620: Developmental psychology