Preschoolers' use of morphosyntactic cues to identify generic sentences: Indefinite singular noun phrases, tense, and aspect

Andrei Cimpian, Trent J. Meltzer, Ellen M. Markman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Generic sentences (e.g., "Birds lay eggs") convey generalizations about entire categories and may thus be an important source of knowledge for children. However, these sentences cannot be identified by a simple rule, requiring instead the integration of multiple cues. The present studies focused on 3- to 5-year-olds' (N=91) use of morphosyntactic cues-in particular, on whether children can (a) interpret indefinite singular noun phrases (e.g., "a strawberry") as generic and (b) use a verb's tense and aspect (e.g., "A bat sleeps/slept/is sleeping upside down") to determine whether its subject noun phrase is generic. Children demonstrated sensitivity to both cues. Thus, solving the in-principle problem of identifying generics may not be beyond the reach of young children's comprehension skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1561-1578
Number of pages18
JournalChild development
Volume82
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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