Tieu, Lyn, Jacopo Romoli, Peng Zhou, and Stephen Crain
Journal of Semantics 33(2), 269–298
Publication year: 2016


This paper 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 (Gualmini, Crain, Meroni, Chierchia & Guasti 2001; Chierchia, Crain, Guasti & Thornton 2001; Reinhart 2006; Barner, Brooks & Bale 2011; Singh, Wexler, Astle, Kamawar & Fox 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.