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date: 30 March 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the importance of pragmatic inference involving alternatives for language comprehension, reviewing the problem of restricting the inferential hypothesis space. It presents a brief overview of theoretical and empirical work on adults and then turns to developmental evidence from two characteristic case studies: scalar implicature and quantifier spreading, where children struggle when interpreting sentences including quantifiers. The authors argue that in both cases, children’s problems are closely linked to difficulties in reducing the inferential hypothesis space, while matching what is said to what is meant. Children are argued to misidentify the Question Under Discussion (QUD), which leads them to consider irrelevant alternatives and make non-adult-like inferences. When relevant alternatives are made salient and the QUD is appropriately identified, children make inferences in an adult-like manner.

Keywords: inference, alternatives, language comprehension, QUD, scalar implicature, quantifier spreading

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