Ambiguous questions and perfectible conditionals
: the perspective from language acquisition

  • Federica Di Bacco

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates two phenomena - scope ambiguity resolution and conditional perfection, from the point of view of language acquisition. An empirical study was conducted to determine how scopally ambiguous sentences and perfectible conditionals are interpreted by children and adults, and if there are any differences between the two groups. In relation to the first, two experiments conducted on children’s and adults’ interpretation of scopally ambiguous declarative sentences and questions have shown that children are adult-like in their ability to access inverse scope. This is in contrast with the view that sees children as unable to obtain inverse scope, and it is instead compatible with the QUD approach. I propose an extension of the QUD approach to include questions. In the case of conditionals, two experiments were conducted to test the theory that conditional perfection is a scalar implicature: if it is so, children should obtain this inference less often than adults. However, the results show that both children and adults obtain a conjunctive-like reading for these kind of statements. This reading is widely reported in children, and one theory attributes it to their inability to construct the meaning of a conditional in their mind. The conjunctive-like reading is less frequent in adults, but it is possible that pragmatic factors have been reported for the high rate of occurrence observed in this study, as adults’ interpretation of conditionals is reported to be influenced by the task. I also sketch another explanation of the results, based on the idea that both the conjunctive inference and conditional perfection can be derived as scalar implicatures.
Date of AwardOct 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJacopo Romoli (Supervisor), Christina Sevdali (Supervisor) & Raffaella Folli (Supervisor)


  • QUD
  • Question Under Discussion
  • Conditional perfection
  • Scope

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