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University of Pennsylvania

ScholarlyCommons
IRCS Technical Reports Series Institute for Research in Cognitive Science

February 2001

Scalar Implicatures: Experiments at the Semantics-


Pragmatics Interface
Anna Papafragou
University of Pennsylvania, anna4@linc.cis.upenn.edu

Julien Musolino
Indiana University, Bloomington, musolino@indiana.edu

Follow this and additional works at: http://repository.upenn.edu/ircs_reports

Papafragou, Anna and Musolino, Julien, "Scalar Implicatures: Experiments at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface" (2001). IRCS
Technical Reports Series. 29.
http://repository.upenn.edu/ircs_reports/29

University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-01-15.

This paper is posted at ScholarlyCommons. http://repository.upenn.edu/ircs_reports/29


For more information, please contact libraryrepository@pobox.upenn.edu.
Scalar Implicatures: Experiments at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
Abstract
In this article we present two sets of experiments designed to investigate the acquisition of scalar implicatures.
Scalar implicatures arise in examples like Some professors are famous where the speaker’s use of some typically
indicates that s/he had reasons not to use a more informative term, e.g. all. Some professors are famous therefore
gives rise to the implicature that not all professors are famous. Recent studies on the development of
pragmatics suggest that preschool children are often insensitive to such implicatures when they interpret
scalar terms (Noveck 2001 for terms like might and some; Chierchia, Crain, Guasti, Gualmini and Meroni
2001 for or). This conclusion raises two important questions: a) are all scalar terms treated in the same way by
young children?, and b) does the child’s difficulty reflect a genuine inability to derive scalar implicatures or is it
due to demands imposed by the experimental task on an otherwise pragmatically savvy child? Experiment 1
addresses the first question by testing a group of 30 5-year-olds and 30 adults (all native speakers of Greek) on
three different scales, meriki/oli (some/all), dio/tris (two/three) and arxizo/teliono (start/finish). In each case,
subjects were presented with contexts which satisfy the truth conditions of the stronger (i.e. more
informative) terms on each scale (i.e. all, three and finish) but were described using the weaker terms of the
scales (i.e. some, two, start). We found that while adults overwhelmingly rejected these infelicitous
descriptions, children almost never did so. Children also differed from adults in that their rejection rate on the
numerical scale was reliably higher than on the two other scales. In order to address question (b), we trained a
group of 30 5-year-olds to detect infelicitous statements. We then presented them with modified versions of
the stories of Experiment 1, which now more readily invited scalar inferences. These manipulations gave rise
to significantly higher rejection rates than those observed in Experiment 1. Overall, these findings indicate
that children do not treat all scalar terms alike and, more importantly, that children’s ability to derive scalar
implicatures is affected by their awareness of the goal of the task. Developmental and methodological
implications as well as theoretical implications for the semantics of numeral terms are discussed.

Keywords
language acquisition, pragmatics, sentence processing, scalar implicatures, quantifiers, numerals, Greek

Comments
University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-01-15.

This technical report is available at ScholarlyCommons: http://repository.upenn.edu/ircs_reports/29


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