Priming of abstract logical representations in 4-year-olds

Joshua Viau, Jeffrey Lidz and Julien Musolino

Though preschoolers in certain experimental contexts strongly prefer to interpret ambiguous sentences containing quantified NPs and negation on the basis of surface syntax (e.g., Musolino’s (1998) “observation of isomorphism”), contextual manipulations can lead to more adult-like behavior. But is isomorphism a purely pragmatic phenomenon, as recently proposed? In Experiment 1, we begin by isolating the contextual factor responsible for children’s improvement in Musolino and Lidz (2006). We then demonstrate in Experiment 2 that this factor can be used to prime inverse scope interpretations. To remove pragmatics from the equation altogether, we show in Experiment 3 that the same effect can be achieved via semantic priming. Our results represent the first clear evidence for priming of the abstract logico-syntactic structures underlying these interpretations and, thus, highlight the importance of language processing alongside pragmatic reasoning during children’s linguistic development.