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On the acquisition of maximality in free relative clauses and plural definite descriptions



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Proceedings of SALT Volume 20 1 15 2010 doi no doi yet On the acquisition of maximality in free relative clauses and plural definite descriptions Ivano Caponigro University of California San Diego Lisa Pearl University of California Irvine Neon Brooks University of Chicago David Barner University of California San Diego Abstract Plural definite descriptions e g the things on the plate and free relative clauses e g what is on the plate have been argued to share the same semantic properties despite their syntactic differences both are non quantificational expressions referring to the maximal element of a given set e g the set of things on the plate Experimental support to this semantic analysis is provided by the first investigation ever of children s interpretation of both constructions A Truth Value Judgment task an Act Out task and a corpus study of the children s linguistic input show that children are aware that the two constructions are different from quantificational nominals e g all the things on the plate some of the things on the plate very early on 4 years old despite the major difference in frequency in the input Children acquire the adult interpretation of both constructions at the very same time around 6 7 years old We suggest that this relative delay depends on children s difficulties with the concept of the maximal element of a set or its association with specific linguistic constructions Keywords free relative clauses plural definite descriptions maximality acquisition experimental Act Out task Truth Value Judgment task corpus analysis 1 Introduction If there are six cookies in a box and nothing else adult English speakers judge both sentences 1 and 2 true The very same sentences are judged false in a situation in which there are only marbles in the box If the box contains three marbles and three cookies then 1 and 2 are either false or infelicitous awkward 1 The things in the box are edible We would like to thank Jennifer Audet the audience at SALT



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