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Title: Experimental investigations into how children and adults process the implicature associated with the scalar term 'some'
Author: Scrafton, Susan
ISNI:       0000 0004 2679 5411
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 2009
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A scalar implicature is the use of a weak term from a scale to implicate that a stronger term in the scale is not the intended meaning. For example, some is often interpreted as meaning some but not all, whereas logically its meaning is at least one. It is only in recent years that scalar implicature has progressed from its role as an explanation for poor reasoning performance in adults to its current status as the subject of experimental investigation. As a result, relatively little is known about scalar implicature and the literature contains seemingly contradictory findings and untested assumptions. The primary aim of this thesis was to investigate the quantifier some in order to clarify and extend our existing knowledge of the scalar implicature associated with the term. In Chapter 1 the literature is reviewed and three research questions are identified in relation to the implicature: What is the developmental trajectory of sensitivity to the implicature? What contexts facilitate sensitivity to the implicature? And which contemporary theory best captures the processing of the scalar term? The experiments in Chapter 2 primarily examined how sensitivity to scalar implicature develops. The results revealed that contrary to assumptions in the literature, sensitivity does not develop linearly but in a U-shaped fashion. Consequently children can be more pragmatic than adults. In addition, sensitivity was seen in 3-year-old children, which is earlier than has previously been shown in the literature. Chapter 3 explored the role of context in facilitating sensitivity to scalar implicatures in children. It focused on Feeney, Scrafton, Duckworth and Handley’s (2004) claim that deception contexts help children to detect implicatures. The findings revealed that deception contexts can aid sensitivity but an important factor is the motivation behind the deception attempt. Thus, the highest rates of sensitivity to the implicature were observed in conditions where there was an obvious benefit to the speaker if her attempted deception was successful. Chapter 4 compared how some is processed by children and adults, and the experiments revealed that adults may be subject to processing difficulties that the children appear not to be. Sensitivity in adults was affected by a secondary task, their logical response times on infelicitous some trials were longer than on control trials and they appeared to experience difficulties in resolving response conflicts. Contrary to assumptions in the literature, a logical response in adults is not necessarily indicative of failure to detect an implicature but could represent either cancellation of the implicature or the detection of conflict between two possible interpretations. In all the experimental chapters, the findings are discussed in relation to theoretical accounts of scalar implicature, with the conclusion that no current theory in its present form fully captures the nature of the phenomenon. Overall, it is concluded that there are assumptions in the literature which appear to be incorrect and therefore future research must be mindful of using untested assumptions to interpret new results. In addition it is argued that theoretical explanations of scalar implicature need to be revised and should be used as a way of generating hypotheses rather than the tool by which results are interpreted. Some is interesting not only for what it can tell us about the interface between semantics and pragmatics but also for what it reveals about the relationship between inference and reasoning.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available