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The Interpretation of Negated Quantifiers in Spanish

10 pagesPublished: February 23, 2017


Children tend to accept weak Quantifiers (Q) in contexts where strong ones hold, failing to generate Scalar Implicatures (SI) (Noveck, 2001/2004). The interpretation of a negated sentence containing a Q requires: (i) pragmatic knowledge to derive the SI and (ii) syntactic knowledge to determine the scope of negation (Neg). Uttering any of the sentences in 1(a,b) in a context where zero students attended the talk is under-informative, because the stronger Q none should be employed in order to be as informative as possible (Grice, 1975/1989).
(1) a. NOT ALL the students attended the talk
b. ALL the students did NOT attend the talk
The fact that Neg occupies a different position in (1a) with respect to (1b) can have an influence on the interpretation of the sentence. While (1a) in English is interpreted by adults as ‘NOT ALL’=some, (1b) can be interpreted as ‘ALL NOT’=some or ‘ALL NOT’=none. Following the “Observation of isomorphism” (Musolino, 1998), children tend to obtain isomorphic-readings, so they are predicted to interpret ‘NOT ALL’=some and ‘ALL NOT’=none. Based on Katsos et al.’s (2012) materials, a Picture Selection Task (PST) was conducted with 5-year-old monolingual-L1Spanish (n=25) children, as well as with adult native speakers of Spanish (n=17), to test their interpretation of ‘all not’ for Spanish todos no (Q-Neg) and of ‘not all’ for no todos (Neg-Q). Participants had to select one of two pictures presented on a screen, after hearing an utterance containing Q-Neg or Neg-Q. The pictures represented a none-context (where zero of five items were in the boxes) and a some-context (where two of five items were in the boxes). Results from the PST showed that Spanish children chose the none-context for Q-Neg in 73% of cases (isomorphic-readings). For Neg-Q the results were not so homogeneous, since Spanish children chose the some-context in 55% of cases. Spanish adults chose the some-context for Neg-Q in 95% of cases, and for Q-Neg the none-context in 83% of cases. While Spanish children and adults prefer the none-reading in Q-Neg, adults’ preference for the some-reading in Neg-Q contrasts with children’s response in that condition. This response pattern raises new questions regarding children’s preference for isomorphic-readings and leads to interesting predictions for the acquisition of negated Qs in Spanish.

Keyphrases: negation, pragmatics, quantifiers, scalar implicatures, syntax

In: Chelo Vargas-Sierra (editor). Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective, vol 2, pages 181--190

BibTeX entry
  author    = {Tania Barber\textbackslash{}'an-Recalde},
  title     = {The Interpretation of Negated Quantifiers in Spanish},
  booktitle = {Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective},
  editor    = {Chelo Vargas-Sierra},
  series    = {EPiC Series in Language and Linguistics},
  volume    = {2},
  pages     = {181--190},
  year      = {2017},
  publisher = {EasyChair},
  bibsource = {EasyChair,},
  issn      = {2398-5283},
  url       = {},
  doi       = {10.29007/vt9f}}
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