Logical Reasoning and Scalar Implicature in Quantified Sentences: A Developmental Study


Grabey, J.
Department of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading.


Background: Number words are generally used and understood to be referring to an exact value, but this is not always the case. In their logical form numbers have an ‘at least’ meaning and are only understood to be ‘exact’ though pragmatic inference. It is thought that children use more logic than adults in their use of and comprehension of language, while adults use additional pragmatic inference.

Aims: This study sets outs to find evidence that supports or refutes the hypotheses i) children use more logical reasoning while adults are more pragmatic reasoning ii) active sentences with one quantified noun phrase will receive more yes responses than corresponding passive sentences and those containing two quantified noun phrases iii) adults will use topicalisation more often than children iv) there will be a positive correlation between participant’s Ravens percentile score and the overall percentage of yes responses.

Methodology: Children aged 5;1 – 17;9 (n = 20) and adults aged 20;2 – 79;6 (n = 20) took part in the same computerised sentence-picture matching task. Four types of sentence were used: active and passive sentences with one quantified noun phrase and active and passive sentences with an interaction of two quantified noun phrases. All pictures were valid interpretations of the sentences (apart from 26 control items). These were underinformative, exact or required topicalisation to be inferred as true. All participants completed the Raven’s Progressive Matrices standardised test for logical thinking and pattern recognition.

Results: The results show i) that younger children gave more logical responses that the older children and adults, but there was no significant differences between the other groups ii) single quantified noun phrases in a passive sentence had the highest frequency of yes responses iii) there was support for this but the difference was not significant iv) no correlations present.

Conclusion: This study is evidence that bare numerals have a different representation to scalar expressions

Unpublished data (2013).


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