Why some children accept under-informative utterances
Abstract: Binary judgement on under-informative utterances (e.g. Some horses jumped over the fence, when all horses did) is the most widely used methodology to test children’s ability to generate implicatures. Accepting under-informative utterances is considered a failure to generate implicatures. We present off-line and reaction time evidence for the Pragmatic Tolerance Hypothesis, according to which some children who accept under-informative utterances are in fact competent with implicature but do not consider pragmatic violations grave enough to reject the critical utterance. Seventy-five Dutch-speaking four to nine-year-olds completed a binary (Experiment A) and a ternary judgement task (Experiment B). Half of the children who accepted an utterance in Experiment A penalised it in Experiment B. Reaction times revealed that these children experienced a slow-down in the critical utterances in Experiment A, suggesting that they detected the pragmatic violation even though they did not reject it. We propose that binary judgement tasks systematically underestimate children’s competence with pragmatics.
Summary (1 min read)
- In the case at hand, the hearer may reason that by only saying some apples the speaker also implies that ‘not all’ of the apples are in the basket.
- Noveck (2001) found that 8- and 10-year-old children were not rejecting a sentence with a weaker term on a scale in favour of the more informative term.
- Currently, there is ample evidence that when participants are rejecting under-informative sentences, they require more time to do so than when rejecting logically false ones.
2.2.2 Experiment B
- The ternary judgement task was created on the same principles as the binary judgement task.
- She informed the participants that she liked strawberries and that in this game, the participants should reward her with a small strawberry, a medium-sized strawberry, or a large one, in correspondence to how well they thought her sentence described the picture.
- After the interval, the participants continued with the graded judgement task, which took also about five minutes.
- Based on the results from the binary judgement task, one could conclude that there is a clear-cut distinction between children, with some being consistently competent with implicature (n = 22), some being in transition (n = 33), and some consistently lacking competence with implicature (n = 20).
- Such interpretations for this kind of data are consistently found in the literature (see, e.g., Guasti et al. 2005).
3.1.2 Experiment B
- In the graded judgement task, the same participants rewarded sentences with a large, medium, or small strawberry .
- No clear strategy is seen for the under-informative condition.
- The non-competent group only includes children who accepted all under- informative statements in the binary task and always awarded them the top reward, a large strawberry in the ternary task.
- Next, the authors compare the RTs for rejecting under-informative sentences with the RTs for rejecting false sentences (with one object) across pragmatically competent children.
- The first objective of this study was to test whether evidence for Pragmatic Tolerance can be found with ad hoc scales within the same subjects.
- The authors therefore predicted that pragmatically tolerant children take longer to respond to under-informative sentences (for which an inference has to be made) compared to logically true sentences (for which no additional inference is needed).
- No such confusion was present for the true conditions, which were always completely true, or for the false condition with one object, which was completely false.
- In the present paper the authors reported response accuracy and, for the first time, reaction time evidence, showing that this is not the case.
- The authors should clarify that they do not suggest that all research that has used the binary judgement task to date is deficient.
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