Conservativity and Learnability of Determiners

Tim Hunter, Jeffrey Lidz

A striking cross-linguistic generalization about the semantics of determiners is that they never express non-conservative relations. To account for this one might hypothesize that the mechanisms underlying human language acquisition are unsuited to non-conservative determiner meanings. We present experimental evidence that 4- and 5-year-olds fail to learn a novel non-conservative determiner but succeed in learning a comparable conservative determiner, consistent with the learnability hypothesis.