The scope of children’s scope: Representation, parsing and learning

Jeffrey Lidz

This paper reviews some developmental psycholinguistic literature on quantifier scope. I demonstrate how scope has been used as a valuable probe into children’s grammatical representations, the nature of children’s on-line understanding mechanisms, and the role that experience plays in language acquisition. First, children’s interpretations of certain scopally ambiguous sentences reveals that their syntactic representations are hierarchical, with the c-command relation playing a fundamental role in explaining interpretive biases. Second, children’s scope errors are explained by incremental parsing and interpretation mechanisms, paired with difficulty revising initial interpretations. Third, a priming manipulation reveals that children’s clauses, like those of adults, are represented with predicate-internal subjects. Finally, data on scope variation in Korean reveals that in the absence of disambiguating evidence, parameter setting is an essentially random process. Together, these discoveries reveal how the developmental psycholinguistics of scope has proved a valuable tool for probing issues of grammar, parsing and learning