Hidden Units in Child Language
Crain (Stephen), Goro (Takuya) & Minai (Utako)
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Paper - Abstract

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Author's Abstract

    In just a few years children achieve a level of linguistic competence that is largely equivalent to that of adults. By three or four, children can produce and interpret novel sentences, and they can judge the truth or falsity of sentences and do so largely in accord with the judgments of adults. Both learning-theoretic and nativist accounts of such phenomena have been offered, and the 'nature versus nurture' debate goes on, unabated. In this paper, we introduce certain aspects of children's linguistic competence that have not been previously documented. These involve children's understanding of the meanings of logical expressions. We report the findings of cross-linguistic studies of children's interpretation of words expressing negation, disjunction1 and conjunction, in combination, and in sentences with a focus operator (only in English). The nature of children's interpretations of these expressions is of interest, in part, because the evidence for the meanings that children assign to these expressions is very thin, at best. The findings suggest that young children understand a great deal about the 'hidden' content of these expressions of the vocabulary of logic. In the absence of any realistic database by which children's understanding could be obtained by general methods of learning, the present research offers insight into the contributions of human nature to language acquisition.

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