Children's Knowledge of Free Choice Inferences and Scalar Implicatures

Lyn Tieu, Jacopo Romoli, Peng Zhou, Stephen Crain

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64 Citations (Scopus)
458 Downloads (Pure)


This article presents experimental results showing that 4- and 5-year-old children are capable of drawing free choice inferences from disjunctive statements and from statements containing free choice indefinites, despite not being able to compute inferences of exclusivity for disjunctive statements, or other scalar implicatures. The findings appear to challenge accounts that attempt to unify the two kinds of inferences (Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002; Alonso Ovalle 2005; Fox 2007; Klinedinst 2007; Chemla 2010; van Rooij 2010; Franke 2011; Chierchia 2013). We discuss, however, the compatibility of the child data with a recent approach in the experimental literature, which attributes children's failures to compute scalar implicatures to a difficulty with alternatives (Chierchia et al. 2001; Gualmini et al. 2001; Reinhart 2006; Barner et al. 2011; Singh et al. 2013). Based on the results of two experiments, we propose an explanation for children's selective success on scalar inferences, according to which scalar inferences are generally unproblematic for children, unless they necessitate lexical retrieval of the required alternatives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-298
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Semantics
Issue number2
Early online date3 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 May 2016


  • scalar implicatures
  • free choice
  • alternatives
  • acquisition


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